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The Stars, Reflected

Chapter Text

They draw lots, and Ignis loses.

"Makes sense anyway," Gladio says, throwing his twig towards the fire. "You're the advisor. I'm just the muscle."

It's a reiteration, and so Ignis doesn't repeat his joke that it's a muscle that they're talking about, really. "Very well," he says, instead, and steels himself. "Wish me luck?"

Gladio grins, and slaps Ignis on the shoulder. "Good luck, champ."

It's not all that far from Ignis's room in the citadel to Noctis's set of rooms. Ignis is always tacitly permitted inside. He knocks nevertheless, and waits for Noctis to call out his permission to enter.

Noctis is on his sofa, in the main room, a comic book in his hand. "Specs," he says, and waves with his book to the desk. "I'm done, I promise, all my homework's right there if you wanna doublecheck."

"Glad to hear it."

Noctis returns his attention to the book, and then lifts his head again when he realises Ignis is still standing in the doorway. "What's up?"

"Ah." Ignis braces himself. "Noctis. Have you by any chance been given 'the talk' before?"

That earns him a frown. "The talk?"

Oh, no. "About girls?"

The frown deepens, and then he sees it click, and then Noctis sits up. His face goes into a vapid, unconvincing imitation of innocence. "No, Ignis, not at all, what could you possibly mean?"

Ignis relaxes. "Thank heavens."

Noctis chuckles, and slumps back against the cushions. "Sheesh, we have health ed class, Ignis, remember? They teach this stuff now, not like all those years ago when you went to school."

"Yes, well." Ignis crosses to the desk. Noctis has been at his school for a whole month, and all the reports say that he's very popular with the girls. Ignis isn't surprised; the fifteen-year-old heir to the throne, pretty-faced and stylish, with his aloof independence? Ignis should have been asking this weeks ago. "I'm under obligation to verify, that's all."

"Well, I'm good. Report back to whoever cares."

Ignis flips through the pages. Neat handwriting, despite Noctis's sloppy habits elsewhere. Well-formed sentences. The prince, if he keeps it up, will be an honour student.

He closes the book. "I'll, ah. Leave you to it, then."

"Suit yourself." Noctis is reading again, a grin on his face. "Tell Gladio I made you blush with my naive questions."

"Goodnight, Noct."

--

It's barely a month later, and they're drawing lots again, and somehow Ignis loses again.

"Huh," Gladio says, as Ignis eyes their twigs disbelievingly. "Well. Good luck."

This time is worse than last time. Last time, it was just a general, theoretical talk that had to be had. But Noctis seems to be getting quite close to this Prompto lad, and no health ed class at his age is likely to cover what happens between men. Or so Ignis suspects, and Gladio admits to having no recollection of being taught such things.

Prompto is there in Noctis's rooms, of course -- he's there all the time, these days -- and Ignis is about to use that as a good excuse to postpone his task.

But Prompto sees Ignis, and thinks it means he's being gently encouraged to leave.

"Ah, uh. That's my cue, buddy," he says, bouncing to his feet. "See ya tomorrow?"

"Sure," Noctis says, and he hits pause on whatever videogame it is they've been playing. "Can you find your own way out this time?"

"Hey, I only got lost once, y'know."

They both chuckle, together, and then Prompto swings his bag up onto his shoulder. He ducks past Ignis, looking a little intimidated -- good, Ignis thinks, intimidating might be useful -- and then he's out of the door.

Well then. No excuse after all.

After Noctis beckons him closer, Ignis sits down in the space Prompto vacated. He peers at the screen. Rifle Ninja TK-Ultra. Not a very edifying game, but then, Noctis does have plebeian taste when it comes to entertainment.

"Wanna try?" Noctis says, holding out the controller. "Blow off some steam, help me finish this?"

"Thanks, but I'll pass."

"Suit yourself."

Noctis unpauses the game and proceeds to shoot some dozen ninjas in the face as they leap, in a way that seems quite un-ninja-like, into the path of his gun.

"So you and Prompto," Ignis says. "You've become close this year."

"Yeah? He's cool. Funny, though, we were in elementary school together but he wouldn't even say hi back then."

"Is that so?"

"Mm." Noctis spares Ignis a brief glance. "You're not going to give me some bad news about how he doesn't pass background checks or something, are you?"

"What? No." If anything, Prompto's background checks are almost suspicious in their lack of anything suspicious. Clean across the slate. "Merely wondering how close you are."

Noctis gives him another glance. "Huh?"

"Well. If you two are intimate, or likely to become so, then it is my duty to instruct you in--"

The game pauses, and Noctis sets down the controller. "Wait, you think he's my--Ignis, ew. He's my friend. We're not humping."

Ignis tips his head. "I see."

"We're not." Noctis snorts, inelegantly. "What, are you here to ask if I've had the gay talk?"

"Well, more or--"

"Oh my god please be joking."

"Noct. It's the Crownsguard's duty to--"

"Not to tell me how to hump my friend!"

Ignis holds up a hand. "If you do not need the information, fine."

"I don't!" Noctis slumps back in the chair. "Geez. Not everything is about sex, you know."

"I am aware of that." Ignis reaches out, and Noctis, after a confused moment, passes over the second controller and picks up his own. "Your father just wanted you to be well-informed, if it were necessary."

Noctis unpauses the game. "Well, it's not."

They shoot ninjas; it's quite simplistic, as games go, but it means that's easy for Ignis to contribute helpfully. Ignis shoots whatever pops into his line of sight, and after a few minutes helps bring down a floating airship apparently full of more ninjas, and then as the screen fills with congratulatory fireworks Noctis sighs and sets down his controller again.

"I get that it's not your fault, Specs," he says, and then he shifts in his seat, and leans hard against Ignis's side. Noctis does this, sometimes, and Ignis has decided it means forgiveness more than anything else. "But if Dad's that worried about me getting laid then he could just talk to me himself."

Ignis thinks about that, as he puts his own controller down. "At your age, your father was already in love with your mother."

"Yeah? I mean, I guess so?"

"I think he's expecting you to have a girlfriend by now, that's all."

Noctis grunts. "Yeah. I… it's just, I'm not into anyone at school like that."

At school, Ignis notes to himself. "Which is fine. Your studies should take priority, after all."

"Mm. But if I did like someone, could you imagine? I can't exactly just, just date. I bring someone home to meet Dad, it's practically a state function."

An exaggeration, but Ignis understands anyway. Noctis's position grants him many privileges, but freedom to flit from one romance to another is not one of them. And it's still possible he'll have to make a political alliance by marriage. On which note: Ignis clears his throat and asks, "about the Lady Lunafreya--"

"Luna? Oh." Noctis sits up, at that. "Luna's… she's special. I don't know if… I mean, I totally would, if she were here. But the Empire's going to marry her off, she thinks."

It's quite likely, considering the situation. "And how do you feel about that?"

Noctis shoots Ignis a look. "I'm not pining for her."

"Alright."

"I mean it, Specs." Noctis slumps against Ignis's side again. "I've had crushes, okay. It's not like that with her. It might be, if I ever got to be in the same room as her again. But it's not."

Interesting. "You've had crushes?"

"Don't."

"If your father asks, I won't give him names."

"Yeah, 'cause I won't tell you them." Noctis squirms, shifts, as if to get his head more comfortable on Ignis's shoulder. "But since you're gonna pry, yeah, okay, maybe crushes on a guy or two."

It's a little surprising, even though Ignis came here specifically to address this topic. "Not Prompto, though."

"No! God, no. He's--" and Noctis waves a hand, vaguely. "He's not sexy."

"And all your crushes are sexy."

"Damn right." Noctis chuckles, faintly. "I'm very picky, I'll have you know."

Ignis considers, for some time, Noctis's weight against his side. The videogame credits wind up and then loops into a sort of trailer for itself, the same few battle scenes looping over and over. Noctis doesn't make any move to turn it off. Ignis ignores it, and wonders what Noctis thinks of as 'sexy', and if Ignis knows any of those people. There are many charismatic and attractive people who frequent the palace.

"Don't try to guess," Noctis says, after a while, and then he yawns. "You staying here?"

It's a fair question. Ignis has had Noctis fall asleep on him before, a few times. It's no hardship, if Ignis has a report or a book to read. "To be your pillow? I'm afraid not, not tonight."

"Damn." Noctis stretches, and sits up. "Okay. I'm going to bed, then."

"Homework all done?"

"Yes, ma."

"Good lad." Ignis ruffles Noctis's hair, just to make him yelp and bat Ignis's hand away. "See you tomorrow, son."

"G'night, Specs."

--

The question pops into Ignis's head every so often, over the next week or so, as he goes about his usual daily routine. The head steward is a tall, incisive man with a wicked sense of humour. The King's Chamberlain, Ignis's direct superior, is a warm generous man who could probably give Gladio a run for his money in the muscle stakes. Gladio himself, the main person Noctis trains in battle skills with, is confident and easy to talk to. The tutor who comes in to provide additional schooling for Noctis on governance and politics is intense and classically handsome. And then there are the men of the Crownsguard, all of them athletic and self-possessed and, frankly, Ignis concludes, it's a miracle Noctis's crushes were restricted to 'one, maybe two'.

Ignis is not that much older than Noctis, and yet on this point he feels years more experienced. He's had his first crushes, his first kiss, his first romance and break-up. All discreet, and with no hard feelings in the wake of it. She was a Crownsguard member, and Ignis a member of the Citadel staff, and the romance had been pleasant but inconvenient.

And Ignis has also noticed men, before. He's never acted on it, but there's no particular taboo about it here in Lucis, it's just uncommon. He's aware not everywhere is so liberal, and so, if Noctis visibly takes up with male lovers, there may be political repercussions.

Which Noctis will know already. Probably. But Ignis will still have to remind him, if Noctis actually becomes involved with a man.

There's an ever-growing pile of 'read these' documents from Ignis's tasks that he semi-regularly gives up on Noctis reading and summarises for him verbally instead. Noctis is smart enough to be able to use those summaries to convince questioners that he's at least skimmed the reports. It's fine for now; it won't be sustainable forever, because in perhaps one or two years there'll be too many reports for Ignis to summarise. Still, for now, Ignis doesn't mind the task. It keeps him sharp on those same details, at least.

"Specs," Noctis says, as Prompto gathers up his books, "what is it now?"

"More of these, I'm afraid," Ignis says, and he sets the day's reports gently on the pile. It teeters, and Ignis sighs. "Can you spare time? I think you need updating."

"Aw, but we--"

"It's okay," Prompto interrupts, with a chuckle. "We can go to the cinema tomorrow, dude."

"I guess. See you at school?"

"Sure." Prompto gives Ignis another nervous glance, as he pushes past. "Seeya."

As Prompto tugs the door closed, Ignis sorts through the folders, putting them into stacks. This one for foreign news. This one for agriculture. This one for economics. This one for--

"Alright," Noctis says, pulling out a chair at the table. "Gimme the short version."

"Niflheim is shaking its fists again."

Noctis snorts. "Alright, a longer version than that."

Ignis sits, too. It's been a very busy week, and summarising takes a long time. Ignis gets up, makes coffee, sits down again to continue, and within a few more minutes sees that Noctis's attention is so obviously dwindling that Ignis has to fight the urge to slip in some jokes to see if Noctis notices.

Instead, he stops.

"Mm?" Noctis asks, raising his head from where it was on his folded arms. "Are we done?"

"Is it worth me continuing?"

"Sorry. It's just really, really boring."

Ignis feels a pang of sympathy. Noctis does seem to have been working hard at school this week, and perhaps all the news at once is a bit of an overload. "How about this, then. If you can tell me three things from the reports, I'll assist on an expedition tonight."

That brings Noctis upright all at once, his eyes alight with anticipation. "For real?"

"Yes." And… ah. They can do that, this time. "Try to make them important things."

"Okay, okay. I think I got this." Noctis holds up a hand. "The wheat production in Leide is worryingly low due to worker shortages, and we're going to be lowering tax on imported grain to compensate."

"Yes."

"There's been some sort of hunter crisis to do with a big snake monster? And the HQ says we don't need to intervene yet, but we're keeping an eye on it just in case they need the Kingsglaive to step in. Yes?"

"Certainly."

"And… uh. The city's road budget was too big last year so there's a surplus and it's going to the subway system instead. I don't know why that's a thing, isn't it all transport anyway?"

"Separately run, so the funds transfer has to be approved by the King." Ignis closes the top report. "I suppose that'll do. Please try and read the politics report, though, if you have time this weekend."

"I'll try." Noctis grins at him. "But I passed, right?"

"You did. Go get changed, and I'll meet you in the west gallery in half an hour."

"On it."

--

It's been two months since they last snuck out. It's late spring now, so the day is a little longer and it's comparatively early. Then again, Ignis is planning on something rather unprecedented this time. A treat.

Getting out of the Citadel undetected is, to Ignis's perpetual concern, quite easy to achieve. The windows in the west gallery are floor to ceiling, and an agile young man can scramble through the gap beneath when one is swung open to full capacity. A twig, wedged in the edge of the frame, means the window can be closed behind them until it is mostly closed, and as yet they've never had anyone lock it in their absence.

From the Citadel through the gardens is trickier. When they were younger, there was an access tunnel with a few narrow gaps that could be wriggled through. Now, they have to slip through the patrols, pressing themselves up against the trees to avoid detection. Noctis claims he finds this fun. Ignis finds it both exhilarating and terrifying, personally, but it's a necessary step. The wall is easy to scale with Noctis's warping skills, at the one blind spot in the camera's surveillance, and Noctis can haul Ignis up with enough effort. That wall faces out into a quiet alley. It's so convenient that Ignis has regularly wondered if it's contrived, if someone -- Regis, quite possibly -- has arranged this route to allow for Noctis's little forays. If so, he's grateful, but it seems like he shouldn't ask, just in case.

The Citadel is in the dead centre of Insomnia. The hat brim is pulled down as far over Noctis's eyes as possible, and Ignis stuffs his glasses into his bag and suffers through the faint fuzziness that ensues. They take the subway, all the way out to the southern edge, and then it's only a half-mile to the gate.

"You're kidding me," Noctis says, as the gate comes into view.

"I am not." Ignis hands over the pass he's obtained for Noctis; a fake, but this gate is busy enough that it shouldn't be examined too closely. "Try to look casual."

It works; the guard barely even glances at their passes. They're out.

A bus takes people from here out towards Lestallum. Ignis leads Noctis onto it, and then off again two stops later, by a little farmhouse. Ignis flexes his hand, to reassure himself; a dagger forms in his grip, and then he lets it fade. Just checking. They're not unarmed. There are daemons out here, even this close to Insomnia. Sneaking out of the city with Noctis is already a terrible breach of the trust put in him. Not being able to defend Noctis would be beyond the pale.

Noctis is gawking upwards; the sky is blushed with pink, and some of the brighter stars are visible already. Ignis smiles, and nudges Noctis, and then points. Some four hundred yards away, down a small track, the runes of a haven glow faintly in the twilight. Ignis is relieved to see it; it's marked on the maps and is why he chose this spot, but still. The maps might have been wrong.

They unpack supplies. Pillows. Snacks. Canned soda.

Once he's gotten set up, Noctis sprawls out, arms tucked behind his head on the pillow. Ignis follows suit, and then they wait as the sky turns from amethyst to darkest blue.

Insomnia is a busy, vibrant city. There's no true night there; neon and sodium lighting scatters off the Wall and paints the sky a dull purplish grey, washing out the stars beyond. In the biggest city park -- where they usually sneak out to -- from right in the centre, it's possible to discern a fair scattering, mostly the usual constellations.

Ignis has often thought about aiming for bigger and better views. And so, now Noctis is older, here they are: somewhere where the night sky is simply spectacular.

He glances over at Noctis.

Noctis falls asleep at any opportunity that allows it, to the point where there were serious conversations about narcolepsy a few years ago. Except Noctis himself will argue against that; he never falls asleep at important points. He just likes sleeping. It's one of his favourite things to do, and even little catnaps of a few minutes are to be taken advantage of.

Out here, with a pillow beneath his head and in perfect peaceful surroundings, Noctis's eyes are wide open and utterly absorbed in contemplation of the sky above.

The moon, low in the eastern sky. The spriggan nebula, arched proudly overhead. A whole galaxy of stars unfurled above them. Multitudes, more than a city boy would ever credit existing. Stars not merely content to twinkle a demure white, but stars in a maelstrom of colours, red and blue and yellow and the whole of it dazzling to behold. The stars of the familiar constellations shine brightest, of course, but they're not joining together the few visible dots on the sky, they're overlaying a cast of millions of others.

"There are so many," Noctis says, his tone hushed and reverential. "It's beautiful."

"Indeed."

It's easy to get lost in the view, but after a while Ignis checks his watch, squinting at the dial in the darkness. Long enough, especially when Noctis has school the next day, and there's the bus timetable to consider.

"Noct--" he begins.

"Oh. Already?"

"I'm afraid so. The longer we're gone, the likelier we'll be missed."

"I know." Noctis lets out a sigh. "Alright. I'm good."

Everything gets packed back into their backpacks, and they retrace their journey. Noctis is quiet, all the way back, but in a way that Ignis thinks probably just means contentment, and they slip into the west gallery having barely exchanged a word all the way home.

"Ignis," Noctis says, handing over his backpack, "that was awesome. I mean, I've seen photos, but it doesn't compare."

"It was marvellous, wasn't it? Next time, I'll try to schedule a meteor shower."

Noctis grins. "You do that."

"Yes." Ignis adjusts his glasses. "If anyone asks--"

"I've never been outside the city before, I know." Noctis takes off his hat, and ruffles up his hair at the back. "But seriously, Specs, thanks. You're the best."

And that, right there, is his reward. "You're welcome."

Chapter Text

Prompto slips him a note, as their third lesson of the day starts.

"Ramen for lunch?"

Tempting -- the school kitchen's food is heavy on the vegetables -- but it's against the rules for them to leave the school grounds at lunch. Noctis raises an eyebrow at Prompto, who points at his bag. Ah. Instant ramen, then. They can beg hot water from the kitchens. He nods, and grins.

Prompto grins back. It's funny; they'd been in school together for years, and then suddenly once they started this school Prompto decided that they were friends. Noctis has never been very good at making friends -- people treat him weirdly because of his status, and he doesn't like that at all -- and he's never had a friend of the sort Prompto is before. Prompto hangs out with him, talks to him about anything and everything, even makes fun of him in a playful way. They like a lot of the same stuff, and they agree on most things. It's like the friendships Noctis has seen on TV, and that makes him feel… normal. It's a nice feeling.

Last week Prompto teased Noctis that he's his only friend, which cut a little closer than Noctis would like. He has other friends, he thinks, defensively, but then, does he? There's Luna, but she's not here -- they're penpals, Noctis supposes, even if their friendship absolutely feels real and important to both of them. There's Iris, but Gladio doesn't bring her to the Citadel that often. There's Gladio too, sort of, but he's more instructor than friend, even if he is being a lot friendlier to Noctis than he used to be.There used to be other kids, in the Citadel -- sons and daughters of guards and servants -- but since Noctis hit his teens those kids have been around less and less.

And there's Ignis. Noctis isn't sure how to classify Ignis. Sometimes, Ignis does the buttoned-up calm advising thing so well that it's easy to forget he's only a couple of years older than Noctis. He's the mouthpiece for the Crown and the Crownsguard often enough to make him sound like an authority figure. But sometimes Ignis acts like a friend, will play videogames or gossip or joke around with Noctis, and when he does it's always kind of awesome. Ignis is fun, when he forgets he's not supposed to be fun.

He's also apparently exactly Noctis's type, from the way he keeps popping into the sorts of dreams Noctis gets embarrassed just thinking about having. Especially since the time Noctis popped by Ignis's room one time and caught him fresh out of a shower, fully dressed but with wet hair slicked back out of his face. It was an extremely good look on Ignis, but Noctis has never managed to time a visit right to see it again. Despite several attempts.

Anyway, his attraction towards Ignis is complicated, and confusing, and not helped by Ignis coming and asking him if he knows how sex works, oh god. And just when Noctis thinks he has this crush under control Ignis goes and does something incredible--and kind of romantic--like sneaking Noctis out to where he can see the whole sky littered with stars from horizon to horizon.

So Ignis, in Noctis's head, isn't quite a friend. He merits his own category. In which case: maybe Prompto is Noctis's only real friend.

Prompto's ramen choices are both pretty good; Noctis immediately picks the pork bone broth one because it's Prompto's favourite and it makes him pout, and then Noctis can offer to switch and that makes Prompto light up and call him a true hero.

"We're still on for the cinema later, right?"

"Sure are."

Prompto grins, as if relieved. "So, whatcha do last night?"

"Uh." Noctis stares into his ramen. He wants to tell Prompto the truth, because they're friends, and that means they should tell each other everything. And he doesn't think Prompto would tell anyone, if Noctis asked him not to. It's not that it's a secret. It's that it was special, and sort of private. "Oh, it wasn't that interesting," he says, instead. "Ignis brought me up to date on a bunch of politics stuff I need to know."

"Bo-ring." Prompto slurps his ramen. "But I guess you gotta know that stuff, huh."

"Unfortunately."

"It seems like a rough deal to me," Prompto says. "I mean, you got school, and all that too? Harsh."

Noctis shrugs. "It's just how it is."

"And Ignis," Prompto says, holding up his chopsticks, "is scary."

Huh. Noctis turns that opinion around in his head. "You think so?"

"Dude. He's terrifying. I always think he's coming to tell me to get lost, or to tell you off, or something."

Noctis can't remember the last time Ignis actually scolded him. Looked at him with that disapproving guilt-inducing look while saying 'you really should try to eat more green vegetables', sure, but an actual ticking off? Not in ages. "I guess he just looks stern? Maybe it's the glasses. But he's nice, really."

"If you say so." Prompto scarfs down another mouthful, messily.

"I mean it." Noctis stirs his own noodles. "I like him."

Prompto stops chewing, and gives Noctis a look.

"Not like that," Noctis says, and immediately feels bad; two lies in less than ten minutes. "But, speaking of that, how about you and Naomi, huh?"

"Mm." Prompto swallows, and shakes his head. "Nah. She's not interested."

"Well geez, don't just give up before you even try."

"Dude. She's not. Just… drop it, okay."

Noctis can't work out why Prompto's like this. Shyness, he understands. But Prompto is more than shy, when it comes to girls. It's like he's actually frightened of them.

"Besides," Prompto adds, "none of us get a look-in with you around, haha."

And Noctis has heard that before, and he knows it's rubbish. "Bullshit."

Prompto just laughs.

In the afternoon they have sports, and as it's nice weather they are sent outside for it. After two laps around the athletics track Noctis has to insist that Prompto stop hanging back to keep pace with him. Noctis isn't the worst long-distance runner, but he can't keep up with Prompto's preferred pace. Nor can he sprint very well when they switch over to shorter distances; he's got decent starting speed, but somehow he always ends up jarring his dodgy knee in sprint races and then the pain shoots up his hip and he has to limp to the finish. Thankfully, the teacher isn't a monster, and after that happens twice she sets him some specific stretches and exercises to do to strengthen his knee while everyone else runs the sprints and gets sorted into their tiers.

Exercise and praise combine to make Prompto really, really cheerful, and he's a babbling brook of chatter all the way to the cinema. It's good; Noctis admires Prompto's ability to maintain a conversation even when Noctis is out of words, and it means all he has to do is grin and agree when necessary.

The film is dreadful, but the cinema seats are comfy, so after about fifteen minutes Noctis wads up his jacket into a pillow and lets himself drift off.

He wakes up disoriented, with Prompto poking him in the arm.

"Whuh?"

"Film's over, dude."

"Oh." Noctis stifles a yawn. "Sorry, it was, uh--"

Prompto wrinkles his nose. "Nah, don't apologise, I think I want my money back. So bad."

Noctis sits up. People are still filing out of the cinema, so the film must only just be over. "You coming back to mine?"

"Ah, nah, my folks have promised they'll be home for dinner."

"Hey, awesome." From what Prompto's said, that's a rare treat, and Noctis is pleased for him. But it means working out when he'll have time to hang out next. Noctis tries to remember what he's supposed to do on Saturdays. Weapons practise, in the morning. Lunch with his father. And he really should read the report Ignis asked him to, but he can do that tonight, probably. "You wanna come by the Citadel tomorrow? Like, three or four o'clock?"

"Sure."

"I'll tell the guards to let you in this time," Noctis jokes, because it makes Prompto rolls his eyes.

"You'd better!"

They part ways a few streets back from the Citadel, after a detour that takes them past two of Prompto's favourite cat-petting spots. Noctis smiles politely at all the guards as he wends his way back inside. It's a long walk through the corridors and stairways to his rooms, and Noctis likes to try and find new routes.

Ignis is waiting on the chair outside, with a book and a slim folder on his lap.

"Hey Specs." Noctis pushes his door open. "What's up?"

"Nothing urgent." Ignis stands, and brushes himself down in the way he always does, though he's always so pressed and clean that Noctis doesn't know why. "More reports, I'm afraid."

Noctis walks in and drops his bag on his table, and then gestures so Ignis will come in. It's one of the things Noctis likes about Ignis. To most of the castle, Noctis's rooms are public space, or near enough. The rooms are cleaned by servants every day, so there's never a day that passes without someone going in and out, and if people in the Citadel need Noctis for anything, they just walk straight in to look for him. Except Ignis, who has more right than most to come and go as he pleases -- even if it's just to drop off more reports -- but who always, always waits for Noctis to give him permission.

The only other person who does that is Cor, and maybe it's not a coincidence that he's the only other guy in the Citadel that makes regular appearances in Noctis's more embarrassing-to-remember dreams.

The servants have definitely been in today. The place looks spotless. Noctis had started a new piece as soon as he got back the previous night, and had left his artbook open and his inks on the coffee table. They've all been put away; he tsks and digs out the book from where it's been returned, to make sure the servants have been careful enough with it.

Noctis likes drawing. He's flat-out dreadful at music -- the traditional art of the Lucian kings -- with a tin ear for melody, but it's considered good for him to have some sort of creative expression and so his tutors have always encouraged what artistic skills he does have. He's got a long way to go before he can be considered a good artist, he thinks, but at least every attempt counts as practise. This time, he's trying out something very different from the figure sketching and cartoons he's used to doodling.

The book's fine; the ink wash he applied that morning must have dried in time. He sighs, and smooths out the page, and turns it, considering the piece so far. It's of the sky they saw last night, and will be dark smoky jewel tones that he's planning on flecking with pastel hues. It's not going to be a patch on the original but he really, really wants to try and capture at least some of the essence of how beautiful it was. If it turns out decently, he's thinking of gifting it to Ignis, as a thank you.

With luck, it'll make Ignis as keen to go back there as Noctis is.

Behind him, he hears Ignis clear his throat politely.

"Reports," he says, closing the book. "I was gonna read that politics one from last night--"

"It's superseded by this one," Ignis says. "Which I can go through with you now, if you've time."

Noctis crosses over to sit next to Ignis, who already has the report open on his lap. "Sure, hit me."

It's dreary, depressing stuff, mostly about how there's a cordial truce between Niflheim and everyone else that nobody trusts. The main problem is refugees from the never-ending Imperial expansion, and different countries are taking in quotas but there are still too many new refugees arriving every day to find them homes.

"Camps," Noctis asks, in disbelief, when Ignis talks about temporary solutions. "What, tents?"

"Essentially, yes." Ignis doesn't look happy at the thought, either. "Insomnia can't take in any more refugees right now; and there's nowhere else in Leide that can accommodate an influx of that many new people. Canvas is at least an improvement on nothing, which is all they have right now. Better to keep the rain off than to let them be wet as well as destitute."

"Damn."

Ignis puts both hands down, flat, on top of the report. "The problem is money. We need to feed them, house them, clothe them. Educate them and heal them, if necessary."

Noctis makes a humming noise, thoughtful. "I wonder what these people were, back in their home countries."

He can tell that his words make gears click in Ignis's head, and then Ignis gets up and goes to the shelf where all the reports for this week got put by the cleaners. Ignis pulls out a stack, and then flips through them for a while, and then says, "hmm."

"You got something there?"

"The farms; low production, do you remember? I imagine we have a fair few farm workers in those migrant camps. And then those people would need homes, so there'd be work building those homes, and supporting those builders, and so on."

"...huh. So we try and recreate entire villages, basically? But there's no land for that."

"I believe many of the farms rent their land from the Crown estate already. It would just be a matter of redistributing some appropriately."

They compare figures for a while, and cross-reference. Noctis isn't sure either of them know enough about agriculture or building villages to know if this really is a good idea, but they write up a proposal together, pages and pages in Ignis's neat handwriting.

It sounds feasible, when Ignis reads it all out in his dry scholary voice. Man. This could really help people, Noctis thinks, and Ignis looks genuinely pleased too.

They agree: Noctis will present it to his father over lunch the next day. Even if it's not implementable, it's something, and his father is always thrilled when Noctis has opinions or ideas to offer.

Ignis takes his glasses off, sets them down on the proposal, and rubs at his eyebrows and then his temples.

"Headache?"

"Only a mild one, but yes."

Noctis gets up and goes to stand behind Ignis, and -- after a moment of hesitation -- pushes Ignis's hands away and takes over, rubbing gentle circles on either side of Ignis's forehead.

"Oh." Ignis sits up, immediately. "How kind of you."

"You're working too hard," Noctis says. It's a safe bet. Ignis always works too hard. "You should take a day off or something."

"I'm certain you already know I have tomorrow off." Ignis sighs, and his fingers twitch towards his glasses. "I'll endeavour to spend it relaxing, I assure you."

"Good." Noctis stops rubbing, and as soon as he does Ignis picks up his glasses and puts them back on. Something about the swiftness of it makes Noctis feel as if Ignis is deliberately trying to distance himself a little, so, probably Noctis shouldn't ever try to rub his head for him again. "I'll try not to cause any emergencies."

"Mm. But let me know what your father makes of--"

"Yes, yes, of course." Noctis pats Ignis on the shoulder. "Go on. You're relieved, starting now. Go, do whatever boring things you do with your free time. And take some painkillers."

Ignis starts stacking up the files. "Very well."

Once Ignis has gone, Noctis flings himself onto his couch with a sigh. It's moments like that which he worries over; was it wrong for him to touch Ignis like that? If it was Prompto with a headache -- well, that's not a good example, Prompto's kind of uncomfortable when physical contact lasts longer than a brief hug. If it was Iris -- no, again, not the same, she's a girl, and there are rules about how you touch girls. Fine. Noctis shakes his head, and dismisses all his examples. If it was a friend, then, a boy and someone who didn't shy away from it, then it should be fine for him to give them a headrub.

Probably, anyway. And it's not like Ignis minds being touched usually. Ignis has always been fine with Noctis leaning on him or napping on him. So this, specifically, is a boundary that Noctis needs to keep in mind in future. No matter how much he wants to touch Ignis -- and he often wants to touch Ignis -- it's not okay for the Prince to rub his Chamberlain's temples.

Maybe it'd be alright the other way around? Like how Noctis isn't ever supposed to hold a door open for any of the Crownsguard, though in practise he's pretty damned sure he'll do that if a door needs to be held. But in theory, it's their duty to serve him and not his to serve them, and Ignis is a Crownsguard as well as everything else.

It might be nice, Noctis thinks, if Ignis rubbed his head for him, and then he feels embarrassed even thinking that. God. He's such a sap.

Noctis really wishes he could talk to someone about this crush. Not even specifically, just generally, in the abstract. How do you get over a crush when you spend this much time with someone and they never do anything that makes you stop liking them?

It's not like he can act on it, after all. Maybe he just has to wait it out.

He sighs, and gets up, and opens up his artbook.

It's also probably not okay for him to give Ignis something he's made, but frankly, nobody's explicitly forbidden it that Noctis can remember, and he doesn't think Ignis would actually refuse a gift. If it turns out it's problematic for some reason, Ignis will tell him he shouldn't do it again, and if that's the case, Noctis will only have one chance to do something like this.

So. He'll create a gift worth giving.

Nightfall as a process had been as beautiful as the sharp contrast of full night, and so he wavers on just how dark to make his background. Right now it's a dark blush of purple and blues, pinking at one edge. He likes the gradient effect, but maybe it's not a rich enough colour at the darkest point. It doesn't evoke the same feeling yet. Not enough impact.

Darker, he thinks. Bluer. Deeper. And then he'll make the stars shine.

Chapter Text

Days off for Ignis are both rare and precious.

He's always 'on call', as it were; should he be needed, no matter what he's doing, it's his duty to answer the summons. Still, Noctis made firm noises about how he'd make sure not to need Ignis, so Ignis can feel relatively secure about this day.

First of all, a lie-in. Ignis usually rises at about 6 in the morning, in response to his phone's alarm. He turns it off, and stretches luxuriously, and lies abed until nearly 7.

By 8 he's in downtown Insomnia. There are many options, and he allows himself the luxury of indecision for a while -- pancakes? Pastries? -- before he chooses a Galahdian restaurant that serves him a fiery peppered steak with sour pickles. It's an excellent way to start a day, Ignis thinks, and he washes it down with syrupy Galahd coffee.

And then, shopping.

Ignis likes clothes, he admits this freely to himself. There's no pride to be taken in looking sloppy. For meetings in the Citadel, he's long since resigned himself to sober suits. For Crownsguard duties generally, however, he has more freedom. There is a long theoretical list of clothing rules -- and all clothing has to be inspected and adjusted to incorporate the emblem -- but the only rule that is regularly enforced is keeping it to royal colours; blacks and near-blacks. Ignis has never had anything he's chosen be rejected outright, only dyed a darker hue. Besides, he needs to have something to spend his generous salary on.

Geometrics are in this season, along with wide-cut trousers. Ignis tries a few pairs on, and decides he'll have stay off-trend for a while; this cut is not attractive on someone of his build. But he finds two shirts, elegant gunmetal patterns etched onto inky black, and then spends a while considering a calf-length coat in purple leather. It's unsuitable for Crownsguard duty, he thinks, but he is allowed a casual wardrobe too. And it does look good.

After some thought, Ignis puts it back, reluctantly. He won't have time enough to wear it.

His hand lands on the next jacket along; royal black, soft leather. Short-sleeved, split up the back, designed to be worn loosely. Not Ignis's usual type of thing, but as soon as he pulls out the hanger he can visualise it perfectly on Noctis.

And it's timely, at that. The Somerval festival is next week. Ignis has already bought Noctis some books, but this would make a far finer gift. Too fine, possibly. He strokes the leather, thoughtfully, and then sighs, and adds the jacket to the shirts. If he changes his mind, he can return it, he tells himself, knowing he won't.

Ignis's cousin works in a high-end watch store in the shopping area, and she joins him for an early lunch. It's pleasant; she teases him about his lack of a love life, and he makes jibes about how she has far too much of one.

The afternoon Ignis spends back in the Citadel. He's been planning to move his furniture around for some time; he recently acquired a fourth bookcase and the current location makes the room seem unbalanced.

His phone buzzes, just as he's pushing his sofa so it's properly parallel to the wall.

Dad looked over the proposal and likes it. Says he'll give it to the appropriate dept. Hope you're having fun.

Ignis smiles, and glances over at the small stash of ingredients he bought. There'll be too much for him alone. He'd thought about asking Gladio, but--

I'm cooking tonight, if you'd like dinner?

His phone rings.

"You really need to learn how to take days off," Noctis says, as soon as Ignis picks up. "You're not supposed to cook and clean and stuff."

"I enjoy cooking, occasionally."

"Weirdo. Anyway, I can't, I got a thing with Prompto. But thanks."

"You're welcome."

Gladio, it turns out, is willing to come to dinner, after his usual guard shift is over. They've spent a lot of time honing their skills together, as the only two senior Crownsguard members tied to Noctis instead of the King. Recently they've both been able to add secondary weapons to their arsenals, which has made things far more interesting.

"I wish the boy would try more," Gladio says, on that topic. "We don't have nearly the same range of abilities as the Glaive do."

"He's only fifteen."

"Yeah, and when the King was twenty, he and his closest left the city. At fifteen, pretty sure he was throwing levinbolts around."

"Yes, well." Ignis pushes the pasta around his plate; it turned out well, but this conversation subject is souring it. "As the King has commanded, the Prince is not to be pushed any further than he is willing on that matter."

"Yeah." Gladio wrinkles his nose. "It's frustrating, that's all."

"As long as the wall holds, there's no immediate urgency." Ignis smiles, instead. "And I didn't invite you here to talk about our charge."

"I guess not." Gladio grins. "Alright. What do you wanna talk about?"

The conversation drifts from topic to topic; Gladio keeps drawing it back to the offer he made once after training, to take Ignis camping. He means in a park within Insomnia's walls, on the river, popular with hunters. Ignis can't say he's keen on the idea of hunting, really, not unless it's necessary.

"I'm a city boy," Ignis demurs, eventually. "I would prefer a real bed."

Gladio grins at that, one eyebrow up.

"I… ah." Ignis realises that it sounds like he's expecting more than just sleep to happen in said bed. "I didn't mean--"

"Iggy, if I wanted to hit on you, I'd at least have brought flowers." Gladio snorts, and gathers up another forkful of pasta. "You're not my type."

"I see."

"Well, you don't have to look that relieved."

Ignis smiles. "I'm just not ready for another workplace romance right now."

"Sure." Gladio points at the food. "But, just saying, if you are? Cook whoever it is this."

--

On Sundays the Citadel always runs a little late. No meetings are scheduled until noon.

As a result, Ignis waits until 9am to knock politely on Noctis's door. The Prince answers, in his pyjamas, and makes a grunting noise that Ignis has learned means enter.

The main room is only mildly dishevelled from whatever Noctis did the previous day, a few videogame discs left out on his coffee table. It's unlikely Noctis made it down to breakfast, so while Noctis grumpily puts away the games Ignis brews them both some coffee and then rummages in Noctis's understocked kitchen for something that Noctis will actually eat.

With a toaster pastry and a coffee inside him, Noctis makes it all the way back up to verbal.

"Yeah," he says, scratching at the back of his head. "Dad loved it. I mean, he said it needed tweaks but in principal, it's a solid base. They've been talking about putting refugees to work, but there's not been any work ideas put forward except conscription."

Oh heavens, if the discussion has been framed in terms of 'putting to work', Ignis has overestimated the general sentiment towards the refugees as a whole. He rather wishes he'd been there to ask the King about that. Ah well. "Let's hope it pays off."

"Gotta be better than making them all Kingsglaive cannon fodder." At Ignis's look, Noctis shrugs. "Dad's words."

"I see. And I agree."

Noctis scratches the back of his head again. "I just want them to have choices, Specs. People might wanna fight, and that's cool. But I don't want my armies stuffed with terrified kids who should be learning how to plough or whatever."

Ignis tips his cup towards Noctis. "Good. Then we've raised you right."

"Thanks, mom." Noctis plasters his hand over his lower face as he heaves in a huge yawn. "Ahhh. Okay. What's my schedule for today?"

"I believe you have an essay to write for your tutor, and then a lesson with said tutor--"

"Aw, crap. Okay. I'm gonna shower and get dressed -- I'll write better once I'm clean, right?"

"Possibly so."

While Noctis is busy in the shower, Ignis retrieves Noctis's governance folder and the assigned books. That done, he sets out his own tasks; personnel files. There's an opening in the Crownsguard, and Ignis has been asked to review all the guard files to recommend likely candidates.

He could do this in his own room, but Noctis does work noticeably better if someone is with him. Left to his own devices, Noctis will start an essay and then be distracted by birds flying past or dust motes in a beam of light or something similarly trivial, and then he'll be daydreaming instead of writing.

Besides, Ignis likes working in the same room as Noctis. The sound of pen scratching on paper is soothing. Noctis's pot of fruit tea scents the room pleasantly, and the angle of sunlight illuminates the table evenly, and there's something companionable about the whole feel of it.

It takes Noctis a full hour and a half to finish his essay draft, and then he revises it a few times, mostly mumbling to himself as he double-checks things in his books. Ignis privately thinks it's hilarious that the future king of Lucis congratulates himself sotto voce every time he verifies that he's written down the correct date for a treaty, but he does hope Noctis grows out of it someday.

"All done," Noctis declares, a little later, and he tosses his pen at Ignis.

"Then you have time to see what you think of these recommendations."

Noctis rolls his eyes, but takes the files Ignis slides over to him. He doesn't have much to add to Ignis's official notes, but notes that the strongest candidate amongst the guards always gives Prompto the side-eye for being a commoner.

It's a definite negative -- oh, not that the guard thinks it's beneath Noctis to associate with commoners, or at least, that's not the main problem. The problem is that Noctis has noticed, and if that's so then this guard can't keep his emotions masked enough for diplomacy. It sends that particular candidate back down the pile, and Noctis says he likes the next strongest option, so: Ignis has a recommendation, with the Prince's backing behind it.

--

It's two days before Somerval, and Noctis is sick. A virus, the doctors informed Ignis the day previously. Infectious, very probably, so Ignis resigns himself to suffering through the same thing in due course. Since he'll catch it, he might as well play nursemaid, and keep others from also contracting it.

Noctis's teachers send over his work, and Ignis sets it aside for Noctis to catch up on when he can. The King has dropped by, twice, fully the concerned father. Ignis has cautioned him to go no further than the door of Noctis's bedroom.

The King chose to ignore that warning, but at least Ignis tried.

Ignis himself curls up in a comfy chair he persuaded Gladio to drag up to Noctis's rooms for the purpose. It's set right next to Noctis's bed, and Ignis has books and the daily papers to keep him busy. Right now, Noctis is alternating between fever and sleep; for a while he kept saying something about Carbuncle, until Ignis pressed the little figurine into Noctis's hand, and now he's quiet again.

It's not Ignis's fault that Noctis is ill. But he feels awful, like this sickness is a direct result of some failure on his part. And the way Noctis clung to the King was heartbreaking to see. Sometimes -- and Ignis keeps the thought firmly behind his teeth -- Ignis thinks Noctis is a tad touch-starved in general. Which isn't unusual in nobility, of course, but knowing that doesn't make it better.

If it wasn't hideously inappropriate, Ignis would be on the bed with Noctis, letting the boy cuddle to his heart's content. When Noctis is a little more coherent, Ignis will move them both into the main room, and Noctis can nap on his shoulder, and that's really all Ignis can offer without breaking strict boundaries.

"Ignis," Noctis says, weakly.

Ignis uncurls, leans forward. "What do you need?"

"Water?"

It's there, on the table, and Ignis helps Noctis take a few sips. Noctis falls back heavily on his pillow afterwards, and then gazes at Ignis.

"Why are you here?" he asks, sounding genuinely confused. "Are you watching me sleep?"

"Making sure you don't choke on your tongue," Ignis says, and reaches forwards to brush Noctis's hair out of his eyes. "And waiting for you to deliriously confess all your darkest secrets."

Noctis snorts, and twists in the bed, as if trying to get comfortable. "That's my Chamberlain, always out to blackmail me."

"Never turn down extra leverage."

"Mm." Noctis is facing Ignis now, on his side. "God, I ache."

"There are painkillers, I think--"

"Nah. No drugs, please." Noctis's eyes narrow, as if he's squinting; on the doctor's instructions, Ignis has covered the lights and the room is as dim as Ignis can make it while still being light enough for him to read. "What are you reading?"

Ignis holds up the book, a slim volume of poems from his own schooldays. "Seven and Sigil".

"Ugh. I was going to say read to me, but not that."

An expected response. Ignis reaches down, and picks up one of the other books, an adventure novel. "I've other options. The Glaceon's Call?"

Noctis pulls a face. "Preachy title."

"'A rollicking tale of adventure in the perilous Cartarnica hills. Rugged hero Solus Soram fights his way to fame and the heart of his childhood sweetheart,'" Ignis recites, from the back cover. "'A ripping thriller, 4 stars out of 5 from Insomnia City Books Review'.

"You picked that, really? I'm shocked at you, shocked." Noctis is smiling, though. "Go on, then. Thrill me."

--

Noctis recovers from the worst of his illness quickly; Ignis, as if in direct opposition, sickens rapidly and retreats to his own rooms. Doctors come by and give Ignis the same medication they prescribed Noctis, and Ignis tells a series of well-meaning visitors to get lost before they catch the same damned thing he has.

It's unfair, really. It's Somerval, and Ignis is stuck here in his rooms while outside there are celebrations. The fever-dreams of the first night were at least entertaining, but tonight Ignis is awake and bored and yet can't cope with loud noise or enough light to read by.

He tries to nap from sheer boredom, and succeeds just enough to be startled awake by his bedroom door creaking as it opens.

"Gladio," Ignis says, forcing sternness into his voice, "I've told you, you'll catch this accursed--"

"Not Gladio," Noctis says. "And I can't catch it, Specs. I've had it, remember?"

Ignis struggles to sit up. "And you should be at the festival."

"I was." Noctis is obviously looking around, and then he sets a bag down. "Hang on a sec, Specs."

He's back a few minutes later, with the footstool from Ignis's living room.

"So I figured you'd be stoically miserable up here," he says, brightly, and reaches into his bag. "But as I remember, food is all fine, so I brought you treats. Think you can stomach Ulwaat juice?"

It's a feast, in miniature; Noctis doesn't have more than a sampling of any single thing with him, but there's a wide variety. Ignis discovers he is, in fact, ravenous. Eating makes him feel a whole lot better than he did, and by the end of the meal his headache is much diminished.

"You should head back down," Ignis says, reluctantly, as Noctis stuffs the greasy paper into Ignis's wastebin. "I'm very grateful for your visit, but--"

"Shush." Noctis squints at Ignis, and then nods, firmly. "You should take a shower."

Ignis isn't entirely sure his legs will allow that, no matter how much more alert he feels. "I--"

"Get yourself clean. Then I'm gonna haul you over to your balcony so you can at least see the fireworks. Then I'll go back down. Deal?"

It's a vast kindness that Noctis is here at all, and Noctis's jaw is set in his most stubborn expression. Ignis nods, and lets Noctis help him collect fresh clothing and then settle him in the bath. He doesn't try to stand, just sits in his bath with the shower attachment and scrubs off the worst of his fever sweat.

Clean and dressed in something approaching his normal garb, Ignis does feel a lot better. It turns out Noctis has made Ignis up a sort of loose blanket cocoon on the sofa, and the sofa has been shoved up against the balcony doors. The sky is a dusky blue; a little too early for the lightshow, but the noise of the festival below is quite loud enough already.

Noctis perches on the back of the sofa, slippered feet next to Ignis on the sofa cushion.

"Thank you, again," Ignis says, softly, and Noctis chuckles.

"You slept in a chair in my room," he says, as if that's equivalent. "Oh, and… uh. I made you a thing? It's kind of lame, but, well."

The 'thing' is a rectangle, wrapped in loose paper. Ignis unwraps it carefully, as Noctis's nervous expression implies it's a bit fragile. Blank card, which Ignis turns over, and then, oh.

Oh, that's lovely.

In the lowered light Ignis does have to peer a little to make out the details, but even in the gloom it's a rather good attempt at a night sky, stars scattered like diamonds on a velvety sweep of navy. Noctis's own hand, Ignis thinks, and confirms it with a glance up at Noctis's expression.

"It's a thank you," Noctis says, and he looks embarrassed. "I mean, as well as a gift."

"It's wonderful. I'm… it's a treasure, Noct, truly." Ignis looks around the room. "I'll have to find somewhere suitable to display it."

Noctis ducks his head, as if praise is too heavy a burden for him.

"I have a gift for you, actually." Ignis gestures towards the bag, which is by the TV. The shirts are with the Crownsguard tailors but Ignis hasn't had time to wrap the jacket. Ah, well. "It's unwrapped, I'm afraid, but it's in there."

It's retrieved, and Noctis slides the jacket out and then holds it up, his eyes reflecting surprise more than anything else.

"If you don't like it--"

"Are you kidding?" Noctis shucks the hooded jacket he's wearing and slides Ignis's gift on, and then strokes a hand down himself. "Wow. You seriously bought this for me?"

It suits Noctis very well, looks like it belongs on him. It also makes him look somewhat older than the hoodie did, more like an adult than an adolescent. "I did."

Suddenly Ignis is being hugged, from behind, with Noctis leaning over the back of the sofa to do so. His cheek presses against Ignis's. "I love it, Specs."

The first crack of fireworks startles them both to look up at the window; Noctis's arms still loosely looped around Ignis's neck, for a while, as lights blossom in the sky. Ignis can't bring himself to push Noctis away; this position with their faces touching is distinctly intimate but he knows Noctis only means it in friendship. And nobody's there to scold them for inappropriate physical contact, besides.

"Ugh." Noctis lets go, standing up, and then tousles Ignis's hair so it falls damply in front of his glasses. "You're all wet."

"Someone insisted I shower," Ignis points out, with a grin, and pushes his hair back out of his face. "And then tried to unsubtly hint they want me to sneak them off into the country again."

"Heh, well, maybe."

"Well. Allow me to regain my strength, and I'll see what I can do." Ignis holds up a finger. "If you keep your grades up and so on."

"Uh-huh." Noctis leans forwards, one hand on Ignis's shoulder. "Don't worry, mom. I'll study hard."

"Good. Then go on, get back out there to the party."

"But--"

"Go on. Leave your old mother to recuperate, you hear."

With one more tousle of Ignis's hair -- probably just to hear Ignis make a clucking noise of disapproval -- Noctis lets himself out, and presumably heads back down to join the celebrations Ignis can still hear in full swing below.

Ignis sits in his little warm cocoon, with the balcony doors open to the air, and lets his fingers trace over the painting Noctis gave him. The stars are tactile, to his delight, distinct little nubs above the smoothness of the swirling background. He'll have to make sure he puts it somewhere he can touch it, sometimes. He can imagine Noctis frowning over the creation of it, too, the crease he gets between his brows and the way he berates and praises himself under his breath.

All that focus turned on making a gift for Ignis. What a thought. One Ignis can't quite let himself dwell on, because as soon as he does he feels unworthy, and he knows Noctis would hate that. It's as well he got Noctis a better gift than the generic bestselling novels he'd picked out at first.

His bedroom, he thinks, to distract himself, because then he won't have to answer too many questions about it. Above his bed? No, opposite it.

He spreads out a hand over it, gently, and watches the fireworks.

Chapter Text

There's a lovenote in Noctis's desk.

Well, they're called lovenotes. Noctis hasn't ever received one that says someone's in love with him -- which he thinks he's glad about, since he wouldn't really know how to react -- but he supposes 'you're cute notes' is too much of a mouthful.

He reads it and sighs. Standard issue, 'I think you're really nice', no signature. He doesn't see the point in these at all, though there's somewhat of a craze for them, so he gets a few every week. If someone thinks they like him, they should at least tell him who they are so he can decide if he wants to do anything about it. He knows it'd be a bit ungrateful to actually screw it up and toss it in the bin, so he just slides it into his school planner. He can throw it out at home, where there's no chance the writer can see him doing it.

Prompto clocks him doing that, and makes a face that Noctis knows means 'I wish I had one of those'. Noctis has told Prompto they're stupid, but apparently Prompto thinks they're romantic. Honestly, if Noctis thought he'd get away with doing so, he'd stuff one in Prompto's desk just to keep him happy.

And then Prompto opens his desk, and stares into it, and then says, "holy shit."

"Huh?"

Prompto closes his desk and holds up a piece of paper. "I got a note."

"Hey, congrats."

"You didn't--"

Noctis holds up both hands. "Not me, I swear. On my mother's grave."

"Wow." Prompto actually sniffs the thing -- weirdo, Noctis thinks, fondly -- and then opens it.

It's a good thing Noctis didn't fake one, he thinks. Especially since this one seems to be an actual letter, rather than just an abrupt confession.

Prompto blushes very, very pink as he reads it, and then clutches it to his heart dramatically. "Oh. It's… it's so sweet."

"Yeah?"

"Yeahh." Prompto heaves in a sigh. "She says she likes my freckles. And she says I showed her some photos once."

"Did 'she' leave a name?"

"No." Prompto deflates a bit. "Damn. But if she's seen my photos, she must be in our year."

That's probably true enough. And it might not be a she, of course, but Noctis doesn't feel like pointing that out to Prompto right now. "Well, maybe if she hears how delighted you were to get her note, she'll come forward."

"I hope so." Prompto suddenly seems to realise he's crumpling the paper a bit, and begins to carefully smooth it out. "She sounds really cute."

Noctis is about to start suggesting names, but then their teacher arrives and all discussion has to be postponed.

By the end of the day they're no wiser; Noctis has listed every girl who isn't dating already, and a few who are, and he has to admit he can't figure out which of them would be privately holding a candle for Prompto either.

Prompto pins the note up inside his desk lid, and it's only a matter of days before Noctis more or less forgets about the whole thing.

--

The term ends, and his Dad takes him out for ice-cream as a reward for good grades.

Noctis privately thinks it's a bit, well, junior school age, as rewards go, but honestly it's really nice to spend time with his Dad. Even if they did have to have Cor sweep the place for bombs or cameras before it opened, and even if the King and Prince of Lucis do attract quite a lot of looks as they walk in.

His Dad orders the giant fruit sundae thing that's supposed to be a four-person sharing dish, and then asks Noctis what he's going to have with a big grin, and Noctis picks a chocolate brownie thing with caramel and pretzels.

It's amazing. He could eat two, and when he tells his Dad that his Dad just laughs and tells him he can have a second one if he really wants it. His Dad asks him about school, and about Prompto, and then tells him about how his mother loved pretzels with ice cream when they were young.

"You'll be sixteen soon," he says, looking almost sad. "An adult."

"Not for a few months," Noctis says, and grins. "Long enough for you to spoil me with ice cream a few more times, right?"

"We've been talking," his father says, and he pauses to wipe his beard, "the council and I, that is, about whether you should study at university here in Insomnia or if you'd prefer to go to Accordo, perhaps?"

"Whoa, really? You'd let me go overseas?"

"If your grades stay as high as they've been, son, it would be criminal to stop you pursuing education a little further." His father smiles, and digs his spoon back into the giant sundae in front of him. "And if you were in, say, Altissia, perhaps you'd have time to go to Tenebrae and see young Lunafreya, hmm?"

It's a long journey even from Altissia, Noctis knows. And his Dad is suggesting it because he thinks Noctis has a thing for Luna. "You know, uh, Dad…"

His father's expression is that strange, careful expression that Ignis had when he was trying to ask if Noctis was dating Prompto. "Yes, son?"

"Ah, uh." Noctis smiles. "Just, Luna and I aren't like you and mom, that's all."

"I sincerely hope not," his father says, and then laughs. "We were up to all sorts of trouble by the time we were your age."

Oh god, please don't let this be about sex.

"Your mother liked pancakes," his father says, and smiles down into his sundae. "We used to sneak into the castle kitchen in the middle of the night to cook them."

Aw. Noctis smiles, and thinks of sneaking out to look at the stars with Ignis, and then pinches the inside of his wrist. That's not about romance, even if Noctis wishes it was. "I wish I could remember Mom," he says instead, which is true. "I just remember her singing to me sometimes."

"Smart. Fierce -- she was so tiny, but she trained hard, and she could shoot better than I could." His father's smile is very fond, and his eyes have gone very distant. "I miss her very much."

"I know."

There's a silence, and then Noctis's dad sighs, and says, "and she'd hate us feeling bad about her absence. So, instead, tell me: are there any cute girls at your school, hm?"

Noctis clears his throat. "Uh. There is someone I like."

"Oh?" His father looks delighted, and Noctis swallows down his nerves.

"But I don't know how he feels, at all."

To his father's credit, the eyebrows went up at the pronoun, but then down again as his father frowns. "You haven't told this young man?"

"No. But I will. Eventually."

"Make sure you do, son. Don't let them get away, if you like them that much."

Noctis can't help it, he shakes his head and smiles. His father is trying so hard, but really, it's not as impressive when there's ice-cream in his moustache. "Yes, Dad."

"I'm giving sage advice here, my boy."

"Yep. Noted. Will do." Noctis grins, and picks up a spoonful of brownie. "Now wipe your mouth, you're embarrassing me."

--

Though Ignis does tell him that they're going on an expedition to celebrate his grades, Noctis isn't sure that they're risking going outside the city again until they're at the gate, and Ignis presses that pass into his hand again. Ventis Gaelicanum, Noctis reads. Not the same name as last time, interestingly.

He pulls his cap down, and lets Ignis lead. The guards nod distractedly as they pass the checkpoint, and then they walk the short distance to the bus stop.

It's a quiet bus, and one of the other passengers nearby seems to be staring. Eventually the man leans over with narrowed eyes.

"Where you boys heading?"

"To our aunt's place," Ignis says, in a surprisingly convincing Insomnian accent. The man raises his eyebrows, and his lip curls up on one side as if he finds that amusing, and then Ignis adds, in a very casual tone, "she's a Hunter."

That makes the man lean back away and the smirk disappears. "Ah."

Ignis puts his arm around Noctis's shoulders, and gestures towards the front of the bus. "C'mon, Ven."

They go and stand up near the front, further away from the man, and when their stop arrives Ignis drops his arm from Noctis's shoulders and takes his hand instead, and only lets go once the bus's lights disappear over the hill.

"I don't think he'll try--"

"No, I doubt it. Hunter relatives are quite the deterrent." Ignis flexes a hand, and one of his daggers forms. "But if he does, make sure you get behind me."

They unpack at the haven again, and this time Ignis has brought food -- fat, delicious-looking slabs of meat in tinfoil, big potatoes likewise in foil, raw vegetables on skewers, and marshmallows with more skewers. Noctis is baffled for a moment, and then Ignis fiddles with the fire in the centre of the haven, and, oh. A campfire.

"Hot food," Ignis says, sliding the potatoes into the glowing coals, and then unfolding a little metal wire tray thing. "I borrowed this from Gladio, so if he asks, I tried using it over your stove at home."

Noctis looks over at the horizon; the sun is behind trees, but the sunset is a blaze of pinks and reds. The sky is cloudless, and it should be a beautiful night. It's unexpectedly cold, though, even with the extra jacket he put on to cover the one Ignis gave him, and Noctis is glad there's a fire.

Ignis glances over, and then tosses Noctis his backpack. "There's a blanket in there," he says, and goes back to trying to make the top of his metal tray level.

There is a blanket, and while Noctis is unfolding it he finds a metal tube. He turns it around in his hands; it's a container, which opens in the middle.

"Open it," Ignis says, not looking up.

A telescope. A really nice one, too, though there's no stand for it, so it'll have to be hand-held. He peers through the small end, aiming it at the nearest trees, but all he gets it a blur and he's not sure how to adjust it.

"I borrowed it from a friend," Ignis says, apparently finally done with his tray, and now there's a little kettle on top of it. "Twist it."

Noctis does, and at the furthest point the trees do seem less blurry. Well. It's not really for this close a view anyway. He lowers it, and grins. "Awesome."

In fact, everything is awesome, from that point on. The food is good, but even better once Ignis rummages again in his bag and hands Noctis some salt to put on it. Ignis is the sort of guy who brings a salt shaker to a campfire, Noctis thinks, and though it should be ridiculous the thought just makes him feel warm and pleased. And Ignis's little kettle is so he can mix water with powder and make them both a warm chocolatey drink, which goes really well with the marshmallows toasted on the fire.

By that point it's properly dark, and Noctis tips his head back. The firelight does make the sky less full than he remembers from last time, but it's warm, and Noctis thinks that's a worthwhile compromise. Ignis laughs when Noctis pulls his astronomy book out of his bag, but obligingly sits pressed up next to Noctis so Noctis can point out things from the book; what the stars are called, less famous constellations. He helps Noctis hold up the scope to look through, and takes a turn himself.

He's close enough that Noctis can smell the soap he washes with, can feel the warmth of him against his side. The firelight makes him look even more handsome than usual, to Noctis's eyes, and he's relaxed and keeps smiling like Noctis is the best company he could possibly have.

It's so romantic it makes Noctis ache. Surely Ignis feels this too, surely he wouldn't arrange things like this if he didn't feel something for Noctis beyond friendship or duty.

But Noctis can't bring himself to make an actual move, just in case. If he's wrong -- oh god, it would be so awful, to ruin things between them. So Noctis just yearns, and fists his hands in his own jacket so he doesn't do something stupid like touch.

The fire dies down, and Ignis gets up and then drapes the blanket around Noctis's shoulders.

"There," he says. "Unless you'd rather I fanned the flames back into life?"

Noctis shakes his head, mutely.

"We shouldn't stay much longer," Ignis says, checking his watch. "Perhaps another twenty minutes."

"Okay."

Ignis busies himself packing up things back into their backpacks, folding up all the wrappers and the tray and so on. Noctis watches him covertly, turning his face upwards towards the skies so Ignis thinks he's just absorbed in that. Ignis even moves in an attractive way, all confident grace and strength.

The sky is as beautiful as it was on their first trip out here, he thinks. But he could be anywhere, with Ignis, and think it a perfect evening.

--

It's two weeks later, and Noctis is frowning over a history textbook when Ignis knocks on the door.

"Yeah, it's open." Noctis scowls down at the page. "Okay, I swear this whole story about the Cleigne temples is exactly the same one about the Leide temples and our teacher promised me that it wasn't--" and then he looks up at Ignis's expression. "What's wrong?"

"Not 'wrong', precisely," Ignis says, and he's all stiff-backed, the way he is in meetings.

"Then why do you look so miserable?"

"I, ah. I'm being assigned to Altissia. For a few months."

Noctis's first thought is, oh no, this is my fault somehow. And then logic kicks in. It can't be his fault. He's done nothing to have Ignis taken away from him. And it can't be something Ignis has done, surely. "What for?"

"Experience, mostly. They think it'll be good for your advisor to have time overseas so I can advise on foreign policy more effectively and objectively. It's standard, I'm told."

Shit. Noctis nods, and Ignis falls silent. "I… yeah, I remember Dad telling me about Drautos doing that, but he went to the Niffs, way back… well, way back."

"Well, I have to admit, I prefer Accordo as an assignment." Ignis's shoulders have dropped out of the hyper-stiff pose, and he comes over to sit on the sofa next to Noctis. "It should only be three months."

"Huh." Noctis figures out the dates; well, Ignis will be back before Noctis's birthday, that's good. And there's no real point in Noctis kicking up a fuss; policy is policy. Noctis is old enough. He can cope for three months. "Well. Buy me a souvenir and don't eat too much caviar."

"I'll have a phone, and email -- I'll only be a call away," Ignis says, his tone apologetic.

"It's okay, Specs. It's not your fault, I know. Might as well get it over with."

Ignis nods.

"When do you leave?"

"In three days." Ignis adjusts his glasses. "I was going to try and plan an expedition, but I fear I am scheduled dawn to dusk in meetings until I leave."

Oh. "It's okay."

It's not, not really, Noctis thinks. But it will have to be.

--

Ignis is gone. Noctis smiled, and smiled, and smiled all through the farewell as Ignis was driven off in one of the state cars. It hurt, more than Noctis really thought it would. Like losing a limb.

The pain sharpens the vague, hazy notion in his mind for him. When Ignis is back, if Noctis still feels this strongly about him, then that means he has to do something about it. He'll wait until he turns sixteen first, so he's an adult, so there can't be any nonsense about Noctis not being old enough. But then Noctis is going to finally do something about this crush. He's going to ask Ignis out properly. Ignis can turn him down, if he wants, but at least Noctis won't just be pining hopelessly. Better to know, than always to wonder.

So, that, that's the plan. And until then, he'll just go on as normal.

His new temporary Chamberlain is Baranthus, who Noctis doesn't really know very well but who he's assured in their first meeting knows all about him.

Noctis smiles at him, politely, and looks over the introductory documents. Older, by some dozen years, than Noctis is. High scores in diplomacy. Interested in calligraphy and jazz music. Collects porcelain. Generally liked, it seems. Maybe a bit uptight, but then, Ignis wasn't exactly lax either.

He won't be a patch on Ignis, Noctis thinks, and then feels bad about it. No. He'll give the man a chance. It's only for a few months, after all. And he'll pick up the slack if he has to, read more of his own reports and maybe try to finally get his head around which Council member represents exactly which district.

Baranthus will have nothing but good things to tell everyone about his charge, that's for sure.

Yeah. He'll make Ignis proud of him.

Chapter Text

Altissia is a jewel of a city.

Ignis, when he arrives, is met at the docks, where his luggage is whisked away from him. From the docks, he's taken by private boat to the stunning Parliament building to meet the man he here is to work with. The Minister of Foreign Affairs is a friendly man -- who introduces himself simply as Corvo, and waves away formalities impatiently -- and he is constantly in demand. Ignis's job will be to serve as one of his assistants. He frowns over his schedule, when he's given it by the other main assistant.

"Meetings, meetings, meetings," Demain says, with a grin. "And when we're not in meetings, reams of paperwork."

Ignis isn't surprised by that. What surprises him is this: his working hours are 9am to 6pm, during the week, and the rest of the time is apparently entirely his own. He verifies this twice, it's so startling, and has to apologise to Demain in case he's misunderstood.

His first day is given over entirely to introductions; his department, a brief tour of the building. Accordo is an alliance of trading cities, and there are representatives of all the cities here. Ignis's assignment is technically to Altissia, but will involve contact with the other cities within Accordo as well as with Accordo's allies. It's a good, solid diplomatic posting.

Afterwards, Demain walks him to where Ignis will be living, assuring him he'll get used to the circuitous route soon enough. This, too, is stunning, an ornate building with spiral staircases and wrought iron balconies. Ignis is shown up to the second floor, and Demain ushers him inside. A short corridor leads through to a room that is both kitchen and living room. Ignis's luggage forms a small pile next to the sofa. Ignis is shown his bedroom, then a bathroom, and then Demain presses a set of keys into his hand and wishes him luck with unpacking, and tells him there'll be a welcome meal and drinks tomorrow since they assume he'll want to settle in first.

A whole flat, just for him? Accordo is being very generous, Ignis thinks, and he stares out of the large window. The river outside is trafficked by gondolas -- Demain joked that he'll get used to the sound of the gondoliers calling out to customers soon enough -- and on the opposite side are more sunbleached buildings accented with pastels and rococo ornamentation.

It's stunning, and it makes Ignis feel suddenly very adult and independent. And a little lonely, too. He shakes that thought off, and takes a photo of the place to send to Noctis and Gladio and his family. He unpacks a little, and then feels hungry.

Altissia is a city of gourmands; Ignis finds an excellent little bar/restaurant on the corner of his street, and the owner is so friendly and attentive that Ignis almost forgets he's dining alone.

It's going to be strange, being away for months. But if first impressions are anything to go by, at least he'll be in a welcoming place.

--

After about a week, Ignis relaxes into his job. It's not very strenuous, after all, he takes a lot of notes, and collates a lot of reports -- work he's well used to from Insomnia -- and his coworkers tell him that he's doing splendidly.

His department is friendly, and after the welcoming dinner and drinks he realises there's always some sort of group dinner arranged on any night, and if he wants company he can invite himself along without fear of intruding. Evenings are spent dining and drinking on open terraces in golden sunlight with good company, before going home to read and listen to music and generally fritter away his time on distractions. Ignis likes it here so far.

Today he's frowning over a report from the archipelago's fisheries, when someone places a cup of coffee on his desk.

"Thanks," he says, and then looks up into dark brown eyes that he doesn't recognise. "Oh."

The man -- dark haired, tanned, handsome -- smiles, an easy-going smile that immediately makes Ignis smile in return. "You're Ignis, right? The Lucian envoy?"

"I'm not sure anyone's decided what my title is yet," Ignis says, and holds out a hand. "And you are?"

It's seized in a firm grip, and then the man bows over it. "Flavius, from Agriculture."

"Ah. I'll be done with this report soon, if you need it?"

"I can come back to collect it later." Flavius tips his head up, just enough to look up at Ignis through dark lashes. "But I was glad of the excuse to talk to you. Can I persuade you to dine with me tonight?"

The tone is very flirtatious, and Flavius's voice is deep and resonant, and Ignis is immediately both flattered and startled. "Oh."

Flavius unbends, though he's still grasping Ignis's hand lightly. "I know the best little trattoria, and I would love a chance to acquaint you with it."

"I... " Ignis's eyes drift to the side, where he can see Demain grinning ear-to-ear and pretending he's not listening in. "I, ah, certainly, I can be free for dinner."

"Wonderful." Flavius smiles again, that warm easy smile. "Meet you at the Fresco bar on Via Caruso at, oh, shall we say 7:30?"

"Very well."

Flavius bows over Ignis's hand again, and then lets go and breezes out of Ignis's office with a brief wave at Demain.

Ignis knows he's blushing a bit, but he gathers himself and scowls over at Demain. "Is this your doing, hm?"

"Me? No. But there's been a pool on how long it would take before you were asked out, you know." Demain shakes his head, as if finding this all terribly amusing. "Flavius isn't the only one who's had his eye on, and I quote, the tall and handsome young Lucian envoy."

"And did you just win money?"

"Sadly for my wallet, I thought you'd be scooped up this morning." Demain grins over at Ignis. "I've heard nothing bad of Flavius, incidentally, though I don't know him well. However, if he mistreats you, tell me and I'll have him shamed appropriately. You're one of mine now, and I'm protective that way."

Ignis snorts. "I've only agreed to dinner, nothing more."

"That's how it starts, I'm told."

Ignis throws a pen at Demain, who ducks with another smirk, and then they return to their work.

--

The trattoria is down a narrow alleyway that Ignis would likely never have noticed, and then up a little staircase, and then inside and up another staircase and another until they're on the rooftop. It's beautiful, with a view out towards the harbour and vines tangling around the fencing on all sides.

Flavius, resplendent in a silvery suit, recommends a particular fish dish and asks if Ignis wants wine, and makes appreciative eyes at Ignis's new tight Altissian-style shirt.

"I saw you when you were given the tour of the building," he admits over the wine. "And, well, you must know you're an attractive man."

Ignis dips his head, embarrassed.

"And to hear your department talk, you are witty, intelligent and charming. So," Flavius says, raising a glass to Ignis, "before you break too many hearts, I volunteer mine."

"I, ah." Ignis feels tongue-tied and shy, in the face of Flavius's obvious interest in him. "I think I should first remind you I am only assigned here temporarily. Even at my best, I suspect I could only break a dozen or so hearts in the next few months."

Flavius laughs, and Ignis relaxes a little.

The food is excellent, and the breeze across the rooftops is fresh and tinged with scent from the blossoms on the vines, and Flavius wants to know all sorts of things about Ignis. He waves away discussions of Ignis's work as Noctis's Chamberlain, however, claiming he doesn't want to compromise Ignis's job secrets, and that's reassuring. But he asks about Ignis's interests, and about his opinions, and they spend a lot of time laughing together.

The wine isn't enough to make Ignis more than contentedly relaxed, either. Flavius begs off a second bottle, since they both have work the next day, but he does lead Ignis back out onto a main thoroughfare and to a little stall that sells an Altissian speciality: spun sugar in clouds of pink. They melt on the tongue, Ignis discovers with delight, and the two of them stroll along the canal's edge, talking and enjoying the evening warmth.

Flavius walks Ignis back to his building, and Ignis spends the walk there wondering what he's supposed to do now. Invite Flavius up for a coffee? His skin prickles with pleasant anticipation, but Flavius stops at the building's stairs, and he takes Ignis's hand and lifts it to his lips in a very courtly gesture. It makes Ignis's chest tighten. Oh, this man is fine.

"You," Flavius says, with that charming smile again, "are as lovely as rumoured, Ignis."

"And you are far too silver-tongued to be entirely trustworthy," Ignis replies. "But I would consent to being flattered by you again sometime, if you like."

"I very much would," Flavius says, and then he leans in and presses a kiss to Ignis's cheek, the lightest brush of lips on skin. "Tomorrow? I know of other excellent places to eat, I assure you."

"Tomorrow, then."

Flavius bows to him again, a flamboyant low sweep that makes Ignis laugh, and then he turns and ambles away down the street.

Oh, yes. Altissia is full of new experiences that, Ignis realises, he's going to have to make the most of while he can.

--

It takes a week before Ignis invites Flavius up for coffee, a week of dating and flirtation and sly smiles and kisses on hands and mutual admiration. Coffee becomes slow, sensual smooches on Ignis's sofa, and in the end Flavius stays for the whole weekend.

A holiday romance, Ignis thinks to himself, as he lets himself get caught up in it. It's not going to last, but it's going to be delightful while it does.

They enjoy each other's company, talk into the small hours of the morning about trivialities and argue about whether Ebony is better than the rich, dark concentrated coffee that Altissian cafes sell. Flavius likes kissing the inside of Ignis's wrists, and having his hair touched, and wrapping his arms around Ignis's waist from behind when Ignis cooks breakfast. Ignis likes feeding Flavius spoonfuls of tangy sauces, and curling up under a light blanket together with the bedroom doors open for the breeze, and waking up with Flavius sprawled out in the bed next to him. The ability to do all these things fills Ignis with wonder, when he stops to consider it. Time. Privacy. Freedom.

And sensuality, threaded through it all. Ignis's old girlfriend was no prude, but Flavius is a revelation. He's shameless in both demanding and giving pleasure, and seems to take immense pride in learning what makes Ignis respond. He's also somewhat of a tease. He makes a habit of arriving unexpectedly in Ignis's office and standing behind Ignis at his desk, stroking his fingers up the back of Ignis's neck to make Ignis shiver at the sensation. On many days, Ignis hungrily watches the hours go by until he can press Flavius up against the wall inside his front door and kiss him properly. Ignis lies abed one night, as Flavius sleeps next to him, and thinks: I could fall in love with this man, if I didn't know I'll have to leave him.

Ignis is in regular contact with the Crownsguard back in Insomnia, gets status reports from his replacement daily and laconic messages from Noctis every few days. Gladio fills him in on Citadel gossip, and Cor sends him occasional notices about political developments.

Even so, it's easy to feel Insomnia and Lucis fade into the background, compared to the vibrancy and immediacy of his life here. A boyfriend -- a doting, romantic boyfriend who teases him for his boring Insomnian clothing and his collection of music -- and a job he excels at, and beautiful surroundings, and friends who are funny and kind, and time to be leisurely about everything.

All too soon, Ignis stares at the date on a report on import quotas and realises he only has a week left in Accordo's Parliament. It's gone too fast, he thinks, his heart sinking. He doesn't want this to be over yet.

Just as he's chewing over this thought Demain calls him out of the office and into a meeting room.

"An extension," he says, slowly, looking at the form. "Another month?"

"You've been invaluable," Demain says, and pats Ignis on the shoulder. "You're popular, bright, and efficient. Frankly, if we can steal you for a while longer, we will. I've permission to beg Insomnia if I must."

It's, well, flattering. "Can I think about it?"

"Of course."

The first thing Ignis does, that evening, is gently push Flavius away and say, "I got an offer today."

"Mm?" Flavius presses a kiss to Ignis's collarbone, nudging his collar aside to do so; in this heat, nobody buttons their shirts up fully, and Ignis rather likes how Flavius watches his exposed throat when they're in public. In fact, Ignis rather likes wearing Altissian fashions now he's started doing it; form-fitting shirts and trousers, accents of flamboyant colours, touches of glitter and sparkle. "What sort of offer?"

"To stay another month."

Flavius lifts his head, immediately, and then seizes Ignis's hands. "Oh, heavens, say you'll take it."

"Well. I must check with Insomnia. Noctis may need--"

"No, of course." Flavius's hands tighten, on Ignis's. "But, if you can stay, I--" and then he's hugging Ignis, fiercely. "I'm not ready to lose you, you ridiculous man."

Ignis feels tears prickle the back of his eyes. Oh. Oh Flavius. "I'm not promising, not yet. But I will make a few calls. Can you, ah, make coffee? I'll be as quick as I can."

He retreats into his bedroom.

"Well, Baranthus is doing a wonderful job of being you in your absence," Cor says, at the other end of the line. "I don't see any problem. But check with the Prince."

"Of course."

Well, one down, one to go.

"Another month?" Noctis sounds surprised. "They're asking you for that long?"

"If possible." Ignis is choosing his words carefully; he wants to stay, but he doesn't want to sound too eager. Noctis might feel insulted. "I mean, if you need me back, they'll manage."

There's a pause, and Noctis says, in a small voice. "You'll miss my birthday."

Oh. Oh Noctis. And it's Noctis's sixteenth, when he will officially become an adult by Lucian tradition. "I… I'm afraid I would, yes." He shakes his head. "I'll turn them down, you're right, I shouldn't miss something that--"

"No, don't be stupid," Noctis says, quickly, and then laughs. "Just, remember to send me something nice, okay? I'll be fine, Baranthus is… well, he's not you. But I'm okay, I promise."

"You're certain?"

"Of course!" Noctis laughs again. "Trust you, though, so good at your job that they don't want to give you back."

"Apparently so."

Flavius sticks his head in, making vague 'milk or not in this coffee' gestures, and Ignis smiles over at him as he nods a yes. Flavius tips his head, and smiles, and then blows him a kiss before withdrawing.

"I… ah, I'm needed right now, in fact," Ignis says, which is not really a lie, as Flavius will put far too much milk in the coffee if unsupervised. "Do you need anything I can do from here?"

"Oh, no, I'm good. Well, uh. Don't work too hard, you hear me?"

"I won't. Thank you, Noct."

Flavius raises his eyebrows hopefully when Ignis goes back into the living room, and then when Ignis tosses his phone aside and grins he actually picks Ignis up and twirls him around in glee.

They make love, there on Ignis's slim high-backed sofa, the balcony doors thrown open and the late sunshine slanting in across their bodies. Afterwards, Flavius makes more coffee, and Ignis carefully picks up and folds all their clothes, drawing the flimsy curtains to give them some semblance of decency.

He loves it here, and he knows it can't last. He'll have to give it up soon. But at least he's been granted a little more time in this paradise before he has to return and pick up the threads of his old life again.

For Noctis's birthday, he sends the most ornate wooden gondola model he can obtain, along with copies of the two books Ignis's father gave Ignis on his sixteenth birthday, and a carved fishing lure he spotted on a dockfront store that reminded him very much of Noctis's little figurine. Gladio has mentioned he wants to take Noctis fishing, so it seems appropriate, and hopefully Noctis won't feel like Ignis has forgotten the day entirely.

--

Four weeks later, and the weather has turned a little cooler, though this city is never really cold. This time, Flavius has been sent out to fetch some wine, because Ignis thinks he might have to beg a little bit to be allowed another month.

He calls Noctis first -- strange, he thinks, as he does so, that's it's been two full weeks since they last spoke.

"Specs," Noctis says, his tone oddly flat. "What's up?"

No gentle warming up to the topic, then. Ah well. "They've asked me to extend my work visa again."

"Huh. Well. You wanna?"

"I… if you don't need me urgently, then--"

"Ignis. You wanna stay? You stay." Noctis snorts. "I'm just peachy here. Have fun, don't worry about me."

"I--"

"Oops, gotta go. See ya."

And Noctis has hung up. Ignis stares at his phone; even for Noctis, that was abrupt. But permission, nonetheless. Hmm.

"Ah, yes, I got the request through from, ah, Demain, is it? He was quite insistent," Cor says. "I can't say I'm pleased to postpone your return, but if I must, I must. Have you informed the Prince?"

"Yes."

"Very well. Let us know when you'll return."

That phone call, too, leaves Ignis a little unsettled, but then Flavius returns with wine and unexpected flowers and Ignis rather quickly puts both conversations out of his mind. He's reprieved, and that's really what he cares about most right now.

--

Noct doesn't pick up, and Ignis frowns. Must be busy, though it's a schoolnight so Noctis should be at home at this time. Perhaps there's a function he can't avoid attending. Or perhaps Noctis's phone is malfunctioning. In truth, Ignis hasn't had more than the briefest of conversations with Noctis since he last asked to extend his visit, and he feels suddenly rather guilty about that.

Now he thinks about it, he hasn't had a status report from Noctis's acting Chamberlain in a few weeks either. Odd.

"Ignis," Cor says, when Ignis makes that call. "You're coming home."

Ah, well. "I believe Demain has sent you the forms to--"

"It's been refused." Cor makes a huffing noise. "You're coming home, as soon as you can make it. I know Accordo finds you useful but we need you here."

"Oh."

There's a pause, and then Cor sighs. "It's Noctis. He's -- god knows, we've tried, but he's just insufferable, and none of us can get through to him, and honestly Baranthus has been a saint but clearly he's been too soft on the boy. We need you, and if I could expedite you back here today I would."

"Insufferable?" That doesn't sound like Noctis. "What on earth do you mean?"

"Oh, it started just with teenage rebelliousness, a few tantrums, but now he's just -- oh, he's awful, frankly. Doesn't want to go to school, doesn't do his royal duties, says he doesn't see why he should bother since it's not like we can fire him." Cor makes a disgusted noise, this. "Makes all these excuses, exaggerates, lies even, then goes into sulks and refuses to talk to anyone. We're hoping you can get through to him -- you've more experience handling him than any of us, after all."

Noctis has never needed 'handling', Ignis thinks, baffled. How can he have become so unmanageable in a few short months? "My contract--"

"I've talked them down to letting you go at the end of this week. You'll get the 8pm ferry and I'll have a car collect you from Galdin Quay as soon as you arrive."

"Understood."

"It'll be good to see you, Ignis. We're pinning a lot of hope on you, I tell you now."

"...I'll see you soon, then."

Ignis ends the call, and lowers the phone to his chest. His mouth has gone dry with horror. He's leaving in two days, and returning to a Noctis who, to hear Cor talk, is now gone so far off the rails that Cor thinks he's a dead loss. Ignis stares, unseeing, at his balcony window. From heaven to what sounds like hell. This is his punishment, then, for this charmed existence he's had lately.

When Flavius returns, with the food Ignis sent him to collect, Ignis is carefully wrapping his ornaments in layers of newspaper.

"...they're not extending your visit?" Flavius asks, immediately. "You're leaving?"

"Before the weekend." Ignis can't look at him. "They need me at home. Urgently."

"Oh, Ignis." Flavius sets the food down, pulls the glass serpent from Ignis's hand, and pulls him into a firm embrace. "I… oh, I will miss you."

"Yes." Ignis swallows, hard. "I must pack. I've so little time."

"Eat first. Then I will help you."

"You don't have to do that."

"Yes, I do." Flavius smiles, though it doesn't reach his eyes. "If I help, then I will have more time to spend kissing you goodbye, my dear man."

The food tastes of very little, to Ignis, but then Flavius does indeed help -- he packs Ignis's belongings up more carefully than Ignis would have, and insists Ignis keeps the books and music Flavius loaned him -- and then they spend most of the night awake, one way or another.

His colleagues make genuinely sad noises at the news. Ignis feels pangs of sorrow all day; it's not just Flavius he'll miss. It's Flavius's friends, who have welcomed him open-armed. It's Demain and his sly humour and over-protective grumblings. It's Maevynne who double-checks his reports and uses little rubber animal stamps to 'grade' his work, like a schoolteacher. It's his clerk Aliria, who is heavily pregnant, whose child Ignis won't get to meet. It's Minister Corvo Azinas, who has invited Ignis to his mansion several times for dinner with the whole family, and who always introduces Ignis as 'our borrowed bit of brilliance'. It's the store owner on his street whose shop opens until late, and who always laughs at Ignis buying Lucian ingredients. It's the sunlight, and the wine, and the food, and the canals and the architecture and the fashion and the way every day has been a joy here.

He's taken to the docks by what amounts to an honor guard; friends toasting him on the boardwalk with cheap fizzy wine and then a procession of embraces that include rather a few drunken kisses on the cheek and one pinch on the behind that nobody owns up to. Ignis manages not to cry until he's on the boat, with his luggage stowed in the hold. Flavius gave him a little box, and told him to wait until later to open it, and it turns out to contain the little silver necklace Flavius used to wear all the time. Ignis has always admired it.

I think it'll look better on you, the note says. Remember me fondly. And then Flavius's looping signature.

Accordo recedes behind him, and in the dark distance, the cliffs of Lucis rise up. It's all over. And he's not at all sure he's prepared for what's waiting for him at home.

Chapter Text

Noctis rubs his eyes, and frowns down at the current page of his homework.

The Accordo treaty was signed in M. E. 43 and

43? No, that can't be right, it wasn't seven hundred years ago. Shit, Noctis thinks, and pages through his textbook.

Baranthus coughs his intrusive little cough, from right behind Noctis.

"Yeah?"

"Your daily reports, your Highness."

"Stick 'em on the pile with the others," Noctis says, absently. Ah. Here. 643, not 43. Must have misread, dammit.

"These take priority over your schooling," Baranthus says, in that cheerful way that Noctis has come to resent. "As you know."

Noctis sighs, and closes his textbook, and lets Baranthus place the stack of reports in front of him. After a moment's pause while Noctis waits, Baranthus makes an amused noise, and places Noctis's phone on top of the report.

"Alright, your Highness. I'll see you soon."

"Yeah, okay."

Noctis snatches up his phone, as soon as Baranthus is out of the room. Prompto texted him earlier about meeting up, damn. Now it's going to look like Noctis blew Prompto off, and it's not like Prompto even bothers to remember Noctis now that he's busy with his girlfriend most of the time.

And… oh, oh god, Ignis called, Ignis actually called and Noctis didn't have his phone, shit. Ignis, Cor, Cor again… huh. Lots of Cor.

There's an answerphone notification from about an hour ago, and Noctis checks.

"Your highness," Cor says, in that weary tone he always uses for talking to Noctis these days, "Ignis will be replacing Baranthus as of tomorrow morning. He should be arriving in Insomnia at about 6am, so I'll send him straight to your apartment. Please have your schedule ready for him. Cor out."

Ignis is… is home? But it's hardly a swift trip back from Altissia, so this has been planned for at least a few days, and nobody told Noctis?

Nobody's told Baranthus either, Noctis thinks, and then shakes his head. Nobody tells anyone anything, that's what he's learned since turning sixteen, and everyone blames everyone else when nothing gets done as a result. And it doesn't matter if it's Ignis or Baranthus; Noctis has exams to prepare for and meetings to go to and the overwhelming, endless flood of Citadel-produced reports to read and, shit, is tomorrow a weapons training day too?

God. His head hurts, and everything swims in front of his eyes for a moment. He's so tired.

There are still energy drinks in the fridge, and Noctis swigs down most of a can in one go, and pinches his cheeks to wake himself up. Right. Just focus. He'll skim through some of the reports, the ones for the Kingsglaive meeting he's got tomorrow afternoon, and for the hospital thing on Friday, and, shit, that refugee report needs an actual response. He'd better do that first, before he's too tired for his handwriting to make sense. Then the Kingsglaive stuff. Then the hospital stuff. If he's good, he can wrap that all up by 11, and then he can try and squeeze in some more essay writing. Bed once you've finished the essay, he tells himself, and then opens the refugee report. Okay. 28 pages. Get on with it.

Tomorrow, Ignis will be back, and he's going to be so angry at me, Noctis thinks, and then shuts that thought away. Worry about it later. Can't fix it now. Just… concentrate.

--

Noctis's phone alarm buzzes at 6am, and he lifts his head from the table blearily after the noise escalates to unbearable levels.

6am. That means something, he thinks, fuzzily. Someone's coming?

He blinks down at the paperwork in front of him. Oh. The essay. That's right, he -- and he squints -- he's finished it, 5 pages of Accordo/Lucis treaty discussions. It probably makes no sense, since he was starting to see spots by the time he finished writing it, but at least it's something to hand in and so his teacher won't do that cold disappointed face at him until after she's read it.

Who's coming? It's important, it's not the usual thing. Noctis rubs his face, and then looks at his phone, and it comes back to him. Ignis. Oh, holy crap.

He surges up from the table, and runs into the bathroom. No time to shower, but he can splash his face with water, scrape his teeth and tongue with his toothbrush, and maybe shove his dirty clothes from the previous day into the hamper.

Which is stuffed to the top already. Laundry. Noctis sighs. One more thing he's not had time for, one more failure to live up to adult life like he's supposed to now he's grown up.

He pulls on his school uniform, latches his door open, runs his fingers through his hair to just get it out of his face, and starts trying to stack the report folders on his desk into a vaguely organised system.

A knock at his door, and Noctis calls out 'yeah?', and then the door opens and, oh.

Ignis. He looks heartbreakingly handsome, all Altissian-stylish with tight clothes and new glasses, his hair pushed upwards away from his face. His clothing glints where he's wearing stuff that catches the light. Noctis feels his heart do that fluttery thing, and so, okay, he's not over Ignis at all, not one bit, and how dare Ignis still make him feel like this after all that time away?

"Noctis," Ignis says, stepping into the apartment, and peering at him with an odd expression. "Bit early for you to be heading out, isn't it?"

Great, and already he's making little jabs at Noctis's expense. Noctis frowns. "I was told you'd be arriving."

"I see." Ignis pushes his glasses up his nose, and smiles. "Well. You've grown."

"That happens when you're away for so long," Noctis replies, and it makes Ignis look hurt, but dammit, Ignis should feel bad about that. Whatever. "Wanna see my place?"

"Certainly."

Noctis gestures around -- the doors are open, Ignis can look into any room he likes -- and says, "my new palace. Sorry it's a mess, it turns out I'm a slob."

Ignis gives him a measuring look, and then he walks into the main room. He takes a seat at Noctis's table-slash-desk. "I've heard worrying things, Noct, I'll be honest."

"I bet you have." Noctis slouches down onto his usual stool. "Go on. What first?"

"Your school grades are slipping," Ignis says, and he picks up the empty energy drink can from the table. "Is the work too hard for you?"

"That's right," Noctis says, because why not? It's what everyone thinks of him. "I'm a thicko, Ignis, and I don't understand a goddamned thing."

Ignis sets the can down, and looks at the essay on the table. He gestures towards it. "May I?"

"Knock yourself out."

Ignis gets up, with the essay, and goes into Noctis's kitchen. "Coffee?" he asks, lightly.

Noctis just nods. While Ignis is reading and making drinks, Noctis can go through that Glaive report he needs to have figured out by this afternoon.

A few minutes later, Ignis is setting down a black coffee in front of him, and follows it by dropping the essay on the table. "This is garbage, Noct. You could write better essays than this when you were ten."

"Yeah? Maybe I was smarter then," Noctis says. Here it is, just as he thought. Ignis is just like everyone else, ready to tell Noctis he's an idiot and an asshole and a childish failure. "Fuck it, anyway. I don't need to get good grades. Not like I'm gonna do anything with them, is it?"

Ignis takes the seat opposite Noctis again, frowning. "Is that so? Well. Is it true that you bunk off and play games at the arcade?"

Ah, crap. Noctis has done that twice, when he simply couldn't face working any more. He doesn't have a console here, and Baranthus locked down his laptop so he couldn't game on it, but Noctis had just wanted to shoot things mindlessly so he could just stop thinking. Blowing off steam. It worked, too. Shame he couldn't do it more often, but he can't spare the time. "Yeah, sometimes."

Ignis just nods, and then leans back in his chair. "And your duties at the Citadel?"

"I try," Noctis says, and god, he sounds like a whiny baby. Shut up, he thinks. You're not a child, stop sounding like one.

There's a pause, and then Ignis sighs. "You look awful, if I'm honest."

"Yeah?" Noctis's temper flares. "Well, fuck you, Ignis, I feel awful too. Anything else? Any other snide remarks for me?"

Ignis's face is impassive. "No. I suspect this is a problem which can't be fixed by just talking to you. Well." He folds his hands in front of him. "Do you want my help or not?"

Help. A joke. Like there's a way to help Noctis. Noctis snorts. "No. Just… just get out. I've got stuff to do."

"Very well." Ignis stands up, and points to the essay. "Redo that, for heaven's sake. I've meetings at the Citadel. Can I trust you to actually attend school today?"

How dare he. "Fuck off."

"Charming."

"Yeah, well, some of us don't have your natural charms, or maybe I'd be sucking face in Altissia and too busy to actually come home."

The hit lands; he sees Ignis flinch.

"Yeah, did you think I wouldn't find out? Accordo just adored you, Ignis the clever boy, the brilliant boy. Maybe you should be prince, not me, I bet you'd just sail through everything."

"You're being ridiculous."

"Oh, am I. That's right. I'm ridiculous, and stupid, and I can't be trusted. Thanks for telling me what I already know."

"If you know, then why aren't you better, Noct?" Ignis's oh-so-precious control must have snapped, because his voice is sharper. He sounds disgusted. Like Baranthus, like Gladio, like Cor. Expecting Noctis to be something he's not able to be. "Look at you, you're a mess, and you can't even explain yourself."

"Explain what? You've got me all figured out already."

Ignis pulls a sour face. "You're a disgrace."

"Yeah? And you're fired."

That wipes the expression off Ignis's face.

"I'm serious. What is the point of you, anyway? You come here, yell at me, who the fuck do you think you are? Get out."

Ignis pulls himself up stiff-straight, and glares at Noctis. "Fine."

And then he's gone, and Noctis feels bad, but also jubilant. Ignis can go to hell for all Noctis cares, with his handsomeness and his condescension and his accusations. Noctis has better things to care about.

Despite his sentiments about Ignis's advice, guilt means that Noctis tries to write something that is at least a little better than his first essay draft before the car arrives for school. He stuffs it into his bag, along with the suit jacket for the meeting this afternoon, and another energy drink because he's not going to get through today without it at this rate.

No point in thinking about Ignis. Fuck him. Fuck everyone. Noctis is trying his best. It's just that it's not good enough.

--

When Noctis gets home, after his pointless meeting at the Citadel where he couldn't follow the arguments and couldn't concentrate -- what a waste of time -- Ignis is there in Noctis's apartment, still in his foreign clothing, still looking pristine and gorgeous, still scowling at Noctis as if Noctis is every bit the disappointment Noctis feels himself to be.

The place has been tidied up. Noctis's favourite blanket is folded on the couch, the kitchen counters are shiny and clean, the windows are opened wide and Ignis is in the process of pawing through Noctis's kitchen cupboards.

It looks very Ignis-y, all smooth and organised. But Noctis isn't stupid, and being at the meeting means he's heard the whispers about what had happened at the Citadel today.

"What you are doing here?" he asks, slinging his bag down onto the couch. "I fired you."

"Apparently you don't have the power to do that."

"Funny, because I heard that you tried to quit too. Aren't you scampering back off to Altissia, then?"

Ignis's expression flickers into guilt for a moment, and then he frowns. "Unfortunately, I'm staying. We're going to get your life back on track, Noctis."

"Great." Noctis rolls his eyes. "I can't wait."

"Firstly: since you can't be trusted not to waste your money at the arcades, you won't have an allowance as such. Instead we'll issue you a store card for food and--" and then Ignis clocks the suit bag over Noctis's arm. "And what's that?"

Noctis feels so, so tired. They want to take more things away from him? Fine. It's not even worth arguing any more. "A suit."

"Why?"

"Because the suit I wore today doesn't fit me, and I have a hospital ward to open this weekend," Noctis says, and he drapes the bag over the back of his chair. "So I had to get a new suit. With the allowance I'm apparently not going to have any more. Good thing I did it today."

Ignis waves a hand, vaguely. "Surely the Citadel tailor would be making--"

"Oh, god, she wants hours to measure me. Waste of time." Noctis goes over to the table, and pulls out a chair. "Now, unless you want to yell at me some more, I've got about fifty reports to read."

There's no response from Ignis, so Noctis tries to focus on the top report -- agriculture, okay, he'll need to pull out the most important figures from this to use in the refugee project meetings -- and then Ignis is pulling the report out of his hand. "Noct, this is the full report."

"I know." He grabs it back, scowling.

Ignis doesn't say anything, instead he just starts poking through the pile. Noctis opens up the report folder again, and starts noting down figures. Wheat production. Drainage. It doesn't actually make much sense to him, but it should, so he persists.

"These are all full reports. Where are the summarised ones?"

"I haven't written them."

There's another silence, and Ignis keeps looking through the reports. Probably angry, Noctis thinks, that he can't even produce the summaries, when Ignis could do it in his sleep.

Noctis's phone buzzes with a reminder, and he checks it, and then groans. "Shit. Okay. Is my maths textbook over there?"

Ignis sets it in front of him, and then goes back into the kitchen. Noctis hears his fridge open, and then close again.

Mathematics. Okay. Crap, Noctis has that exam tomorrow afternoon. He pulls up his schedule on his phone -- no, the Geography exam in the morning is a write-off, he's triple-booked what with that meeting and the training session, but he can make the Mathematics one if he goes straight from the meeting with the Galahdian representative. Right, he'll have to do that.

He glances over his shoulder into the kitchen at the clanking noise. Ignis is going through his bin, shit, even Baranthus wasn't that nosy.

Studying. Okay. Calculate the angle of the--

"Noct," Ignis says, "how many of these damned drinks do you consume every day?"

And then square the-- "I dunno, some?"

There's another clanking noise.

Noctis tries to focus. This is basic mathematics, he thinks, irritated at himself. He should be fine. Just plug the numbers into the equations. You shouldn't even have to think about this.

The hand on his shoulder makes him jump, startled.

"My apologies," Ignis says, removing his hand quickly. "But I'm concerned about when you last ate."

"I had a sandwich at school," Noctis lies, with the ease of habit. "I'm good, it's fine."

That earns him a frown. Wrong answer? But Noctis can't face food, not right now; his stomach cramps a lot if he eats when he's stressed, and it's uncomfortable and distracting.

"A big sandwich," he adds. "I'm stuffed."

Ignis points at his textbook. "And this homework is for?"

"I've an exam tomorrow--"

"An exam -- heavens, Noctis, you're in the middle of your exams, that's right." Ignis makes a noise that's definitely angry. "Give me your exam timetable, please?"

Noctis digs the full exam timetable out of his bag, the paper one with all his annotations on, because Ignis makes impatient noises over the one on Noctis's phone.

"What does this mean, where you've crossed it through?"

"I had a scheduling conflict, so it's not worth even studying for it."

Ignis stares at him, and then at the piece of paper. He looks furious, Noctis thinks, really, really angry. That expression -- from Ignis, who is supposed to like him -- breaks through the little wall of defensiveness Noctis has built up, and all his indignation sublimates into shame.

"Look, Ignis, I've fucked up, I know, I'm not supposed to let my schedules overlap, but how was I supposed to know my timetable before they gave it out? The meetings were scheduled weeks ago. I don't have time to do everything, so I have to prioritise. That's my job."

"Give me your schedule, Noct."

Noctis gets his laptop, and lets Ignis open the calendars, and retreats back to his table. Ignis is visibly enraged, which Noctis has never seen before, but then, he's never been this much of a fuckup before. But if Ignis sees he's trying, sees that he's working, maybe it'll help.

Ignis closes the laptop with a click, and comes over to the table, and just stands there opposite Noctis for a while. Noctis scribbles, frantically. See? He's working. He's busy. He's not slacking off, he's productive and he'll cope if he can just find more time--

"Noctis," Ignis says, and his voice is unexpectedly gentle. "Noctis, please stop."

Noctis looks up, and Ignis's mouth is all grim and unhappy.

"I need you to tell me," Ignis says, "exactly what your daily schedule actually is, right now."

"Um."

Ignis pulls out the seat again, and picks up the notepad that Noctis is supposed to collate reports onto. He rips off the top sheet -- the agriculture figures -- and sets it aside, and then extends his hand out to Noct. "Your pencil."

Noctis hands it over.

"We're going to start," Ignis says, "with your Tuesday, this week. What time did you get up?"

"Uh." Noctis rubs at his face. Interrogation on details, that's familiar from being questioned by Baranthus. And Tuesday, Tuesday, that had been, uh, the Economics exam, and the training session he'd had to skip because of it. What time would he have gotten up? "Six?"

"And you ate?" Ignis keeps questioning Noctis for about fifteen minutes -- Noctis is checking the time, covertly, because that's time he's not getting to spend on anything else -- and Ignis keeps making notes as he goes, and then he straightens his shoulders, and shakes his head. "I think I only have one more question, Noct. What did Baranthus do?"

"What do you mean?"

Ignis gestures at the notebook. "He didn't manage your schedule, or attend meetings on your behalf. He didn't collate your reports, or summarise them. He didn't even keep your cupboards stocked. What did he do?"

Noctis doesn't quite understand the question. "He, uh. Kept an eye on me? Made sure I was working, brought me the reports, monitored my behaviour to report back to the Crownsguard, that stuff."

The pencil actually snaps in Ignis's hand, and Ignis stares down at the two splintered halves of it.

"Sorry," Noctis says, automatically.

Ignis looks up at him, frowning. "Why?"

"I mean, uh. I know I messed up, Ignis. I know. Baranthus was doing his best, everyone says so, but I'm just not good enough to do everything I'm supposed to. I'm useless at this."

"In what possible world could you think Baranthus was doing his best?"

Noctis can still see the anger in Ignis's eyes. "I, uh--"

"Noctis. I have trained all my life to be your Chamberlain. I would consider myself an expert in what the role involves. And that, that pathetic man was not your Chamberlain. Did he just stand here watching you work?"

Noctis dips his head, oddly ashamed. "No, he was busy going through my stuff to check I wasn't up to anything bad."

"I'm sorry, are you saying he went through your belongings?"

"Yeah, I mean," and dammit, there's tears, now. Noctis tries to rub them away. "My diary, and my phone, and -- I caught him with Luna's notebook, once, even. He said I couldn't expect privacy until I learned how to handle my own life."

He doesn't even see Ignis get up, but somehow Ignis is now behind him, kneeling, arms wrapping around Noctis and pulling him backwards gently so he's half-leaning against Ignis. "Noct," Ignis says, and he sounds upset, Noctis realises, "Noct, oh god, I'm so sorry."

Why is Ignis sorry? "No, I'm fine, don't--"

And then Ignis pulls away, and makes a distressed noise. "Noct, when did you last eat, really?"

"I, uh." Noctis scrubs at his face again. "Yesterday?"

"Oh, holy hell."

Noctis is too bewildered and exhausted to really understand any of this, but he lets Ignis hug him again briefly, and then Ignis insists he goes and showers. "Just… don't worry about the work, Noctis. Just go get clean, please."

The shower feels nice, means he can wash the grittiness out of his hair, and it's so hot it makes Noctis's skin go pink, and -- Ignis must have done some laundry, earlier, because there're clean towels, and that makes Noctis feel grateful and confused again. He furls himself in the largest, and emerges from the bathroom to find Ignis is on the phone. Ignis points at the sofa, and seems to be listening to the person on the other end. Noctis goes and puts on his pyjamas and then returns to the main room.

The table is clear, no reports for the first time Noctis can remember in, well, months. His textbooks are on the kitchen counter, with his phone and his laptop next to them.

"Thank you," Ignis says, finally, to whoever it is on the phone. "I've a list of formal complaints, but I fear it may be incomplete. Tell Gladio I'll contact him to collect it soon."

Another pause, and Ignis makes a cynical snorting noise into the phone, and then turns it off.

"I was planning to cook, but you've no food," Ignis says.

"Sorry, I did plan a grocery run but I didn't get around to it--"

"We'll get delivery, it's fine. What will you eat?"

They order pizza, and Ignis has a fresh pencil, and keeps asking Noctis questions. He makes a frustrated noise when Noctis admits that Baranthus always confiscated Noctis's phone during the day, and another when Noctis apologises for not eating properly, and then they look at Noctis's schedule again and Noctis keeps trying to explain and apologise for what a wreck it is until Ignis tells him to stop apologising bloody hell and that's so weird that it makes Noctis feel very lost.

"I've asked for some arrangements to be made about Baranthus," Ignis says, as Noctis's stomach cramps around the first slice of pizza. "You won't have to see him again."

It's a relief, more of a relief that Noctis can process. But it means he remembers the message he got that morning. "Oh? He left some stuff here, he said. Needs to collect it."

"He won't get the chance," Ignis says, flatly. "I imagine he's either in or on his way to the palace cells right now."

The cells? "Wait, what?"

"I've had him arrested, Noct. At the very least for grand incompetence, though I'm starting to think it should be a prosecution for abuse."

Noctis frowns. "Abusing who?"

"Heavens, Noct. You're rail-thin, you haven't slept properly in, oh, weeks, I'd guess, he's been monitoring all your communications and bad-mouthing you to the Crownsguard, disruptively scheduling you so you can't possibly fulfil any one part of your duties efficiently, making you think you had tasks to perform that were in fact his, do I really need to keep listing?"

Ignis thinks Baranthus was abusing him? "He never laid a hand on me, Ignis, come on."

"Thank heavens for that small mercy, at least." Ignis adjusts his glasses. "He was systematically and -- I think -- deliberately ruining your life. I'm amazed you didn't run away, frankly."

Noctis fidgets with the crust of pizza in his hand. "I wanted to run," he admits. "But Gentiana and Carbuncle said I couldn't. Or I think that's what Gentiana meant, you know, she's kind of hard to understand. But Carbuncle told me I should hang on, and Luna did too."

"Are you full?" Ignis frowns at Noctis's pizza; he's managed a slice and a half so far. "Put it aside, and try to eat more later."

Noctis, grateful to be allowed to stop -- his stomach feels weird, too tight -- puts the box down.

"And now," Ignis says, his expression very serious, "I'm going to have to ask you if I can search this place."

"Huh?"

"I'm concerned about whatever it was Baranthus said he'd collect."

"Oh. Go ahead. If you find it, get rid of it."

Ignis scowls. "We'll see what I find. While I'm doing that -- forget the reports. Leave them to me. Spend a while on your geography; I'll make sure you can attend that exam tomorrow."

Noctis nods, and watches as Ignis heads purposefully for the bathroom.

Ignis is home, and he's not angry at Noctis, or not any more, and he's saying that it isn't Noctis's fault that everything fell apart. But only a few hours ago Ignis was all ready to leave, wanted to have nothing more to do with Noctis. It's so confusing.

Noctis isn't sure he believes Ignis that it's not his fault, really -- his father manages to handle meetings and reports and diplomacy and politics, and Noctis will have to do the same one day, no matter what Ignis thinks -- but maybe, just maybe, everything's going to get a bit better now. Even if Noctis messed everything up, maybe Ignis is willing to stay, to try to help him unmess it.

Noctis finds his geography textbook, and curls up on the sofa, and realises that he's feeling something he hasn't felt in months.

Hope.

Chapter Text

Cor scowls up at Ignis from where he's behind his desk. "No."

"But--"

"Ignis, you have been back all of four hours. You can't leave."

Ignis straightens his spine. "I don't believe I need your permission. His Highness was quite clear about firing me."

"It's not up to him, thank god." Cor shakes his head. "I know he's a nightmare, Ignis, we all do."

"An understatement." Ignis considers that morning's meeting -- a blazing argument, where he'd actually lost his temper at this appalling and unrepentantly hostile version of Noctis -- and then steels himself. "If he can't fire me, then I resign."

"No."

"Listen to me -- I am not fit in temperament to handle him. I do not have the necessary emotional distance."

"Ignis, give it a week, I beg you. Nobody else is willing to even contemplate handling him, and it's not fair to keep loading it onto poor Baranthus. The man must be at his wit's end."

"A week."

"Yes." Cor smooths his hand over the papers on his desk. "And if in a week he's still beyond help, well, we'll have bigger issues than just your resignation to consider."

Ignis heaves in a deep breath. "Fine. One week."

--

It's barely a few hours later, and Ignis is incandescent with fury.

How had he missed it that morning? Noctis, tired and groggy and twitchy all at once, enough to make Ignis suspect narcotics abuse, behind a pile of thick reports that couldn't possibly have been appropriately trimmed. Shrunken in his uniform, skin turned waxen grey and hair filthy. So fixated on working on his task that he'd barely noticed Ignis clucking over that incoherent essay.

And then defensive, like someone who'd been conditioned to believe he would be verbally attacked, lashing out angrily because what else could the poor boy do? It wasn't as if his words were untrue; Ignis had indeed stayed away because he'd been enchanted with his romance, then he had come back, found this new and fractured Noctis and had wanted to wash his hands of him.

Noctis is currently in his nightwear, which is visibly too short in the ankles and wrists, and he's reading quietly on the sofa, and Ignis has just found a small camera tucked on top of the cabinet in Noctis's bathroom.

A camera. Ignis stuffs his hand in his mouth to stop himself snarling in rage. Noctis has just showered in this room. Best not alert him to this betrayal right now. Ignis picks up the offensive item with his handkerchief, and stows it his bag. That done, he considers. If he was spying on the Crown Prince -- and no doubt about it, this confirmed that Baranthus wasn't just useless, he was actively lacking in morality -- where else would a camera be secreted?

"Noct? I'm going to take a look in your bedroom."

Noctis looks up, and nods.

That's far too docile a response, Ignis thinks, like Noctis believes it's fine for Ignis to wander at will in his home. Ignis frowns. "Noct, come with me? I want to know where not to poke my nose."

Noctis sits obediently on his bed, and watches Ignis run his hands along the curtain rail and the lampshade. "What are you looking for?"

"I'll know when I find it," Ignis says, and looks at the bedside table. It looks wrong, and then he realises. "Where's your father's gift?"

"Carbuncle?" Noctis pulls out the little figurine from a pocket. "I've been carrying him on me, it's okay."

A relief; it would have been awful to find out that Baranthus had stolen something Noctis treasured so dearly. Ignis moves onto the bookshelf, instead. The gondola he sent Noctis is on top, and Ignis fetches it down. At some point it's been quite seriously broken and then repaired. "Noct?"

"Uh. I, when you said you were staying, the second time? I got angry and threw it across the room." Noctis bites his lower lip. "Sorry, it was dumb, but I was so mad at you."

"Understandable," Ignis says, gently. "And you fixed it quite well."

"No, that wasn't me. Baranthus glued it back together, said it was ungrateful of me to break a gift."

A fine thing to say, but Ignis can't quite believe anything good of the man. He stares at the gondola. It's hollow inside, he thinks. There are little decorative holes all along the hull. Oh, no.

"Noct? I'll have my friends send you over another one, I promise."

"Huh?"

Ignis snaps it open across his knee, so it breaks where the repairs were made. In the stern, just as he feared, a camera blinks its green light at him.

Noctis has gotten up, is staring down at the camera too. "Is that what I think it is?"

"I fear so." Ignis sinks to his knees. "Noct. I'll have the Crownsguard find you another apartment, if you'll permit."

He looks up, and Noctis is nodding, his eyes wide. "I, uh. Might need to go throw up, now."

"Yes. I'm sorry."

Noctis heads to the bathroom, locking the door behind him. When Ignis calls Gladio and says to come over, immediately, Gladio makes a nervous, chuckling noise. "What, you need a referee this time?"

"No, I -- you haven't heard, then? Never mind. Just come, quickly."

To Gladio's credit, he knocks on the door a mere ten minutes later. Noctis has emerged from the bathroom and is currently cradling a cup of mint tea that Ignis suspects he won't even sip.

"Alright, what's going on?"

Ignis holds out the boat stern -- he hasn't tried to pull the camera out himself, doesn't think it'll be beneficial to do so. It takes a moment for Gladio to realise what he's looking at. When he does, Gladio goes white, and then stares up at Ignis for an explanation.

"It's exactly what it looks like," Ignis says, and then goes to his bag for the one in his handkerchief. "And this one too. Have them taken to Cor as evidence; I've sent him a photo of the list of charges already but this is additional."

"Spying," Gladio says, after a long moment where he's clearly trying to wrap his head around this. "But who?"

"Baranthus. I am almost entirely certain of that."

Gladio lets out a long, low whistle. "Fuck." He leans, looking past Ignis. "Noct--"

Noctis waves a hand, vaguely, but he's looking away and that very clearly communicates that he doesn't want to talk to Gladio.

"Ah… right, never mind." Gladio looks at Ignis. "What else do you need?"

"Another apartment for Noctis to move into, firstly. I -- ah, tonight we'll go to the Citadel. I can't let him stay here, I can't be sure I've found everything. Have an expert available for me tomorrow morning to check Noctis's phone and laptop for any more tampering -- did you know that man confiscated Noct's phone every day?"

Gladio shakes his head, his mouth pulled down at both sides.

"Well. A car for us both, in about half an hour, to give Noct time to pack a few things. Have my things taken to the Citadel too, if they're not already." Ignis thinks, but the last time he slept was a few hours in the back of the car from Galdin Quay, and he's too angry to be very logical right now. How can people not have seen what was going on? "And tell the Crownsguard I want a full assembly tomorrow, in the afternoon."

"Right. On it." Gladio reaches out a hand, and puts it on Ignis's shoulder. "Uh. Good to have you back."

--

Noctis's rooms in the Citadel are oddly bare, but then, Ignis supposes most of Noctis's things went with him to his apartment. The old sofa is still there, though, and Noctis perches on it while Ignis does a sweep of the place. Baranthus had certainly spent a lot of time here, before Noctis had been moved out to his apartment in accordance with his adult status. It's possible this place has cameras hidden around it too.

Ignis is not trained in counter-espionage work at all, and so when he finds nothing it's not a relief.

Still, he reports it to Noctis, and then sits next to him.

"Why'd he even put cameras in my room?" Noctis asks, sounding genuinely confused. "What's he going to get, shocking footage of the Prince sleeping?"

"I would guess that he was expecting to catch you… occupied, Noct."

"Who with? I didn't have time to bring anyone home."

"Yourself, perhaps."

There's a pause, and Noctis snorts. "Like I've done that in months. Too tired."

It sends a shudder of pity arcing through Ignis."Are you going to be alright in here?" he asks, cautiously. "I can ask the servants to make you up a guest room, instead."

Noctis shakes his head. "No, I'm okay."

"You're sure?"

"I am." Noctis pulls his feet up, and wraps his arms around his knees in a very childlike posture. "I should work on my exam stuff."

It's close to midnight and it's been an exhausting day. Ignis puts a hand on Noctis's shoulder. "You should be sleeping. I'll come with you to school in the morning and talk to your teachers."

"Oh."

"You'll really be alright? I can give you my own room, if that would be better."

"No, I'm good. Go. You need to sleep too."

Ignis smiles. "Yes, I suppose I do. I'll come fetch you at 7, how's that?"

"Okay."

"G'night then, Noct."

--

Back in his rooms, Ignis opens up his smallest suitcase, and stares at the clothing inside. Altissian, all of it, but at least there's a plain black shirt that will pass for Crownsguard if nobody looks too closely, and steely grey trousers likewise. Easier than rummaging around his trunk for Insomnian stuff, and nobody is going to care much about his attire when he's busy berating them for incompetence and neglect.

And then, having showered, with the door locked, curtains drawn, and a fair certainty of not being disturbed, Ignis sits on his old bed and stares at the necklace Flavius gave him.

He's been back a day, and it feels like half a lifetime already.

When he'd asked Cor to be allowed to leave, a possibility had been uppermost in his mind: Altissia would take him back. Demain would be glad to have him return to work, and he could find a place to stay, and he could just slip back into the lifestyle he'd had, with Flavius and endless sunlight and the lapping of the canals against the walls outside.

And now, he can't believe he was so selfish. Selfish to want to go back, and selfish even to have stayed so long. While he was basking in warmth and love… well. The guilt is like an ache in his chest, turning his happy memories into sour ones.

Well. He's here now. And it's not too late, he hopes, to rectify the damage he did by his absence, at least in practical terms. The schedules can be fixed. By brute force if necessary. The schoolwork, too, can be addressed. But his relationship with Noctis is going to take a long time to repair. And Noctis… god, Ignis doesn't know if he's glad that Noctis has stopped being vicious and started being meek instead. At least the venom had spirit behind it. The forlorn, subdued Noctis of this evening is a more terrifying prospect, a Noctis so grateful to be believed and not blamed that he apologises constantly and can't even understand that what happened to him is abuse.

Ignis puts on his glasses and fetches out his laptop, trying to set himself in motion. If he thinks about this any longer he'll be in tears, and that will serve no purpose at all.

Emails. Firstly to Regis, because the King should be brought up to speed with exactly what his son has been going through. He adds a note, that the King should be very proud of his son for not crumpling under these conditions.

Ignis then composes several messages to Noctis's teachers -- polite, pleasant emails, because these teachers are not at fault. It's soothing to affect calmness; he explains that he will visit in the morning, and that if that's an inconvenient time to discuss Noctis's schooling and missed classes and exams then he will make time to meet whenever possible. He can't help but add in an apology, and a brief explanation that priorities had been confused, and that the perpetrator of said confusion was being disciplined.

That will be true within the day, he thinks.

Next, Ignis composes a series of rather less gentle emails. To the full Crownsguard, to threaten heavy penalties for not attending the full assembly. To Cor, about the cameras and what their presence implies. To Gladio, to remind him about the accommodation and to tell him Noctis won't be coming to any training sessions until Ignis has this mess sorted out. To Drautos, to ask him why the hell it looks like Noctis has been drafted into attending so many Kingsglaive meetings when he's nothing to do with that branch. To various other departments, to explain that he'll be cutting back Noctis's time on responding to their reports and meeting with their representatives.

He drums his fingers on the table.

Then he writes himself a to-do list. Ordinarily Ignis doesn't need to-do lists, preferring to keep all his tasks and duties in his head, but this whole crisis is too big and he fears he'll forget something crucial.

Since the first task is juggling Noctis's schedule, he stares at it. Noctis is consistently double-booked, sometimes triple-booked, with little attention paid to time needed to get from one appointment to another, and the temptingly blank evenings are obviously just another sort of double-booked, what with all the workload Baranthus was piling onto Noctis.

It was impossible for this mess to be a result of simple error. Baranthus had extensive briefings on his task, reams of notes and lists in emails from Ignis, superiors he could turn to at any point for support. Any aide worth his salary would look at this schedule and know it to be a travesty.

Oh, it's true that Ignis has always tried to lighten Noctis's tasks a little more than is perhaps his exact remit. The job of the Royal Chamberlain is to assist and to advise, but to what degree is, well, debatable. Noctis was supposed to read a few more of the full reports, attend a few more meetings, handle a tad more diplomatic work than he'd actually done under Ignis's care. But Noctis was still in school, had shown great promise, had been encouraged to concentrate on academic study. There'd always been an understanding that Noctis would start picking up more of the royal work eventually.

To create chaos, all Baranthus would have had to do is insist to Noctis that eventually was now, and then mislay a few emails on procedure, feign some confusion, pile on the pressure relentlessly. Keep Noctis exhausted, persuade him that he should be capable of fulfilling a contradictory set of goals. And when asked, make Noctis sound lazy, emphasise every small failure. Drive a wedge between the Prince and his support, so none of them spend enough time around him to notice the truth.

And then, what would be left would be a Noctis alone, overwhelmed and broken.

Ignis can theorise about Baranthus's future plan, after spending a while in cynical contemplation. You have a vulnerable boy. Begin to help him again, making it sound as if the assistance is out of the kindness of your heart, not out of duty. And then, one day, when the old King passes, you have a new King whom you have learned to manipulate, who is full of gratitude for your generosity and willing to listen to you over anyone else.

Ignis hopes the man rots.

--

Noctis doesn't answer his door, and it takes Ignis a few terrified seconds to find the note wedged into the hinges.

Gone to Dad's.

At the King's own bedroom door, Ignis hesitates. It's 7am, he shouldn't be disturbing the King--

Regis himself opens the door, and beckons Ignis in, a finger on his lips for quiet.

"My son is still asleep," he murmurs, closing the door very quietly behind Ignis. "And from your message, I believe that perhaps I should allow him as much sleep as I can."

Ignis nods, and lets Regis usher him forward and into his reception room. There's a blanket and pillow on the chaise-longue, and Ignis casts a curious look at Regis.

"What, did you not think I'd insist my son take my bed?"

"Ah."

"I understand the Crownsguard will assemble today," Regis says, still in that quiet way of his. "I will attend, but I expect you to take the lead on this."

"Yes, your Majesty."

"I will have Baranthus brought up to defend himself. Not," and Regis's scowl is dark indeed, "that I can imagine he can possibly have sufficient defense for this."

"Not one that absolves him of spying." Ignis sets down his burden; an old set of Noctis's school clothing, from his wardrobe in the Citadel. "I fear I am not an impartial party to this, your Majesty."

"Nor am I. I will have blood for the harm done to my son, Ignis."

Ignis doesn't know what to say; he feels exactly the same way, but it's really not seemly for him to be baying for the man's blood in front of the King.

Regis claps a hand onto Ignis's shoulder, and gives him an assessing look. "And you, I believe, are owed my gratitude and my--"

There's a tiny creaking noise, and they both look over to see Noctis, in that half-dazed state he usually exists in just after rising, peering out from Regis's bedroom.

"Son," Regis says, and he pats Ignis's shoulder before taking his hand away. "Your Chamberlain has arrived."

Noctis nods, and rubs his eyes with the back of his hand. With his overlong hair and his half-asleep eyes, it makes him look like much younger, and Ignis feels a strong compulsion to gather him into a hug, perhaps wrap him back in a blanket, feed him treats.

"I've brought your uniform," Ignis says, instead. "And, if you don't mind, I'd like to run through this schedule with you -- I realised I don't know which of these meetings you might like to attend."

Noctis does a few slow, bleary blinks, and then he holds his hand out. "Clothes first." Ignis gathers up the uniform and hands it over, and Noctis goes back into the bedroom.

"Your Majesty," Ignis says, quietly, "would it be remiss of me to ask for there to be breakfast?"

"Not at all."

It takes Noctis longer than Ignis expects to emerge, even knowing how lethargic Noctis is in the mornings. And when he emerges, jacket slung over his arm, Ignis realises why, immediately -- these trousers hang perilously low on his hips. "I can't wear these, Specs," Noctis says.

Ignis fumbles off his own belt, and holds it out to Noctis.

"It's got sequins on," Noctis says, looking at it with obvious confusion. "Sequins."

"Just borrow it, Noct. Nobody will see it under your jacket."

"Yeah, okay."

"I'll talk to the school about new uniforms today." Ignis tips his head, and watches as Noctis puts on the jacket. The length isn't right on the arms, but Noctis generally crumples up his jacket sleeves anyway, so that's not a severe problem. It's also a little loose, but not so badly that it needs urgent fixing. However, the trousers are definitely too short on Noctis's ankles, now they're not falling down.

Ignis has a simple list of all the things Noctis was attending, because he wants them to be considered separately from the actual schedule. Breakfast arrives as they're going through it -- pasties and fruit, choices which Ignis approves of given how small Noctis's appetite seems to be. Noctis points at a few things he thinks he'd like to keep. The refugee resettlement project, he says, is his responsibility, and he doesn't want to give up any of the charity meetings. Ignis nods, and says he'll get things reorganised so they don't clash with school. It's more work than he'd like Noctis to keep, but fewer than he feared. He'll manage.

"Is that okay, though? Rescheduling things like this, just for me?"

"Son," Regis says, from the other end of the table, "I assure you, I have meetings moved for my convenience every day. And I have my Chamberlain do the moving for me, too."

"Oh."

"And your examinations should take priority."

"I concur." Ignis suspects Noctis is going to do dreadfully on his exams this time, even if he attends them. But it's still important to go, because the school system will look more far more favorably on failure than on absence. And Noctis might not fail all of them. They'll have to see. "Speaking of which, you have two exams today."

Noctis makes a pitiful noise, and then slumps back in his chair.

"You'll live through them, I assure you." Ignis points at the half-eaten pastry on Noctis's plate. "Finish that, please."

"Yes, mom," Noctis grumbles as he takes another bite of it.

And then they both pause, and glance over at Regis, who lowers his paper and tips his head to one side in obvious amusement.

"Um. An old joke, your Majesty," Ignis says, very embarrassed.

"I'm sure you'd make a fine wife, Ignis," Regis says, and lifts his paper again.

Well. Time to pretend he's not blushing. Ignis stands up, and gestures towards the door. "Come on, Noct. Bring that with you, let's get you to school."

"Alright. Bye, Dad."

"See you later, son."

--

Noctis's teacher meets them at the gates, and tells Ignis she's cleared space in her schedule for them to chat.

It's not a very long meeting; Ignis reiterates his previous comments about Noctis's royal responsibilities, but, since he's decided that publicly shaming the entire Crownsguard with the exact scale of how badly things went wrong is unwise, he mainly concentrates on solutions rather than excuses.

The teacher -- and bless her, she phrases it carefully -- suggests that Noctis's scores on the exams may reflect his recent performance, and Ignis agrees. She also says, however, that she truly believes that Noctis is a strong student, and that he can, with enough support and effort, excel at his studies again.

She leaves him in her office, with a working set of ideas for study plans and revision materials that should be very useful.

Ignis sends many emails and makes many calls, mostly to move meetings and cancel Noctis's attendance. He emerges as Noctis's exam is about to end. Noctis looks genuinely embarrassed to be met at the exam room door, as awkward as if Ignis were actually his mother, but he perks up at the promise of sushi for lunch.

This, right here, is going to be the best part of this day, Ignis thinks, as Noctis grins at the new schedule with delight at sections marked 'no studying allowed here' and 'proper amount of sleep'. Just seeing Noctis smile this widely is a vast relief, and lifts Ignis's spirits immensely.

And there'll be more smiles, he hopes, in days to come.

But first, Ignis has some vengeance to enact.

Chapter Text

After Ignis leaves him for the night, Noctis flops out and tries to think. His mind feels sluggish. There's been too much to take in, all at once, and he keeps mentally inspecting parts of the day one by one, unable to really piece them into a whole.

Shit. He needs something to pep him up so he can actually think properly, he thinks, and then realises, no, he doesn't. He needs to sleep. He's supposed to sleep now.

He can't get comfortable in his bed. But he can't disturb Ignis, not after telling him to go rest.

When Noctis knocks on his father's door, he's not sure what to expect. Really, he's just hoping not to be turned away, because his Dad is obliged to love him even if he's messed up. He's certainly not expecting what happens -- his father opening the door, immediately pulling Noctis into a fierce hug, and sounding like he was going to cry as he apologised to Noctis for 'everything, son'. It makes the world feel unreal, but it's much better than being scolded or blamed.

"Can I stay here?" he manages to ask. "On the sofa?"

"I can do better than that, my boy."

Noctis hasn't been tucked into bed by his father since he was a child. And he should find it babying, but instead, oh, it's exactly the comfort he needs right now. His father presses a kiss to his forehead, and leaves the door open a crack so Noctis won't be sleeping in the dark, and Noctis only lies awake for a few minutes before sleep, blissfully, claims him.

--

The geography exam is not nearly as bad as Noctis had thought. All the political reports he's been poring over actually come in handy; Noctis can piece together a reasonable essay on water erosion from all the goddamned drainage reports he's been staring at, and then follows it up with an essay on population movement, because that's just his refugee project from a different angle. The last one stymies him a bit, but he throws together a few half-remembered facts about the Seven and their influence on land movements. The meteor, the disc, the corpse of the Glaceon, enough to maybe get him through it without losing too many points.

There's sushi for lunch with an Ignis who has a new schedule for him. It's practically empty, Noctis thinks, nothing overlaps and there's spaces designated as 'meeting preparation time', and Ignis then points out the times when Noctis is not allowed to work.

It's incredible. Noctis stares at Ignis, grateful beyond words, and then his eyes slide down to Ignis's outfit. Pure Altissia, all tight and tailored. It looks good on him, but just seeing it makes something curdle in Noctis's stomach. Ignis was gone for months, wanted to stay away longer, bitched out Noctis as soon as he got back and nearly ran straight back to Altissia when he thought he had a chance to.

Sure, now he's on Noctis's side, but that doesn't make up for everything else.

The curdling feeling stays all through Noctis's mathematics exam. Which he is completely lost in anyway. He doesn't even recognise half the things he's supposed to do, and the little sheet of helpful example equations doesn't make any difference if he doesn't know which one is actually useful. He surrenders to ignorance, picks ones at random to use, and slinks out of the exam feeling like a complete idiot.

His teacher is waiting outside, and once he's done with that meeting about turning in extra credits and slowly rebuilding his grades, Prompto grabs him and asks if he's got time to catch up. Noctis checks his new schedule, and, amazingly, he does in fact not have anything scheduled for the rest of his day. Ignis has put a little note: spend as you choose, studying optional, please eat.

"So it was pointed out to me that I've been kind of an ass," Prompto says, in their booth at the burger place. "It's supposed to be mates before dates, haha."

"Yeah, it really is."

Prompto's cheeks darken in an embarrassed way. "I -- I just got really, uh--"

"Distracted by all the face-sucking? I noticed."

"Ah, um--"

"I get it, though." Noctis arranges his face into amusement, not resentment, though it takes a bit of effort. "You'd fancied Naomi for yonks."

Naomi had been responsible for that effusive little note Prompto had received, so Noctis really does get it -- they'd fancied each other, and now they're a thing, and for quite a while Prompto's every spare minute had been spent kissing and being moony over his girlfriend. It's just, well, it meant Prompto had barely any time to spend with Noctis. Not that Noctis had the time to just hang out, anyway. But it would have been nice to have felt missed.

"Doesn't excuse it, though." Prompto sighs, and slathers his fries in ketchup. "And I talked to Naomi, and all her friends are mad that she's been so, you know, busy too. So we're gonna both back off a bit."

"Dude, you like her, it's fine, spend time with her."

"Yeah, I will, just… not all my time. Gotta hang with my bud once in a while, right?"

Noctis nods.

"And, uh. Ignis gave me a bawling-out about not noticing you weren't happy."

Oh. "What exactly did he say?"

"That you were working way too hard, and all work and no play, yadda yadda." Prompto gestures with the fries in his hand. "And I should ask you for more details, but basically, uh, hang on." Prompto digs around on his phone. "'Noctis benefits from your company, as a reminder that there is more to life than his duties.' Which means, basically, you need me to remind you to slack off, am I right?"

Ignis hasn't repeated his comments about abuse, or about food, or about Noctis being spied on, then. Good: it'd make Prompto feel awful, and right now Noctis only wants Prompto to feel moderately bad. Noctis laughs. "Yeah, it does."

"You wanna hit up the arcade after this?"

"Definitely."

--

Noctis and Prompto spend a few hours at the arcade. There've been a few new games added since the last time Noctis was here, and Noctis burns through the money in his wallet on the driving game and the amazing sword-fighting game that Prompto dismisses as 'stick-waggling'. They'd have stayed later, but Noctis runs out of funds.

He stares at the message on the card terminal, and then it registers: oh, that's right, Ignis got his allowance frozen. Shit.

It'll get unfrozen, he thinks, now people understand he wasn't throwing money away all the time, and that thought still comes with a nagging doubt in his head. Well. It'll probably get unfrozen. Ignis has said that Noctis needs to slack off sometimes, after all. So he'll just tell Ignis, and it'll get fixed. Still, it's embarrassing, and he has to laugh it off by telling Prompto he'd forgotten that he'd spent so much of his allowance already this week.

When he gets back to the Citadel, grumpy and wishing he'd had the foresight to buy himself a drink before spending his last coins on another try at the racing, it takes him a full twenty minutes to notice that there are no Crownsguard around the place. Kingsglaive soldiers and the regular guards fill in the gaps, so no position is left unmanned, but it's still eerie. Noctis roams around the palace, checks Cor's room, Ignis's room, the Crownsguard offices, anywhere he can think of. They're not abandoned, just devoid of any Crownsguard members.

One of the Kingsglaive, a slender woman with startlingly pretty eyes, finally breaks what seems to be some actual restriction on telling Noctis what the hell is going on, and points -- with half-curled fingers, reluctant -- upstairs. "Audience chamber."

There are guards on the main doors, which Noctis takes as confirmation that something is going on, and he eyes them for a moment before concluding it's not even worth trying. He's not going to be allowed in, they have that determined look of men who've been told not to let anyone in. And the side-entranceways all have guards too. It's a lock-down.

The Citadel has been Noctis's home most of his life, however. The Citadel was built by someone who liked secret passageways and moving panels -- Noctis's father has shown him the passageway that spirals up from his rooms all the way to the very top of the Citadel a few times -- so there must be ways to enter the audience chamber that aren't obvious.

The chapel that backs onto the audience chamber has an immense pipe organ, hundreds of vast metal pipes studded around the room and controlled by keyboards and pedals in a fashion that Noctis has never truly understood. Below the chapel, however, there's a maintenance room. It's mostly used for storage; boxes of candles for winter festivals, leather skins for repairing the bellows. Noctis hid himself away in here once, as a child, and took a nap on those hides, and woke up in utter confusion when the chapel's organ had blasted cold air and waves of sound across him.

Noctis tries there after a few false starts, because he remembers that there was a lot of up from that room, behind the pipes.

By warping judiciously, he makes it up to an entrance hatch that lets onto a slim but reasonably familiar corridor, the one that leads up to the audience chamber balcony. Noctis dusts himself down, and sighs at himself, suspecting he's gone a long way around to get somewhere pretty ordinary. He follows the passageway around, and then flattens himself back around a corner before he gets spotted. Guards even up here. Okay. Well, good thing he didn't go the normal way after all.

He sneaks along to the nearby door while their back is turned, and lets himself out onto the balcony of the audience chamber.

Whoa. Now he gets what the big deal is. It's a full assembly of the Crownsguard, standing in ranks that fill the hall below to bursting. His father presiding above it all from his throne, with Ignis addressing the massed forces from the stairs below.

"--and not just this man, but all of us, should hold ourselves utterly contemptible," Ignis says, his voice loud and clear. He has everyone's full attention; the hall is hushed, and he looks full of righteous anger. "An abysmal failure on duty on everyone's part. The Prince was ignored when he raised complaints, dismissed as lying or exaggerating."

There's a nod, curt, from Cor at his post just behind the throne.

"Since when do we take each other's words over the words of the King or the Prince?" Ignis shakes his head, his expression scornful. "Our bond with the Crown is a sacred trust. I don't care how plausible Baranthus sounded or how long he has been in our ranks; our willingness to believe his words has cost us dearly."

Holy shit. Ignis is fierce like this. And the Crownsguard look cowed by his rage, as if Ignis is an angry parent who caught them misbehaving.

Noctis sinks into the nearest seat, trying to stay out of view.

"I do not recuse myself from blame. I was all too keen to believe that the Prince was in good hands. I am certain this stands for all of us; none of us could imagine that his keepers would act in bad faith. At the same time, did none of you notice the Prince's physical decline? His complexion, his unkemptness, his gauntness?"

Geez, does he really look that bad? Noctis knows his face has gotten a bit thin, but he thought that was just because of growing up -- his Dad has the same face-shape, hollow cheeks and all. Maybe it's worse than he thinks it is.

There's no response to Ignis's words, anyway, just a sort of sensation of humiliation from the assembled Crownsguard.

Ignis gestures towards the area below Noctis's point on the balcony. "We have heard Baranthus's feeble excuses, his accusations about the Prince's character. They would suffice as explanation, were it merely incompetence we charged him with. But nothing can excuse his violations of the Prince's privacy. We have the cameras he placed in the Prince's bedroom and bathroom. We have evidence that he monitored the Prince's communications in every form. We cannot prove that he served another master, but even so, such actions are not merely intrusion, they are spying, and that is treason."

Treason. Shit. Noctis feels alarm spike through him; c'mon, it's not… not that serious? Noctis can't imagine the footage would be very exciting for anyone. Look, the Prince pisses like a commoner. How scandalous. Except that it is still awful, when Ignis puts it that way. Spying on the Crown is a capital offense.

From the direction of the gestures and looks, Baranthus must be right beneath Noctis. Noctis considers, for a moment, what it must be like to be the focus of the assembled Crownsguard's hate-edged stares, of Ignis's scornful expression, of his father's icy glare. For a moment he almost feels pity, and then he thinks about the cameras again and feels his hands clench involuntarily.

"And yet," Ignis says, dropping his hand, "I consider the worst crime of all to be that the Prince seems to have been persuaded that all of this is normal, that he deserved to be deprived of sleep and privacy and dignity."

That makes Noctis feel worse. God. He should have realised how badly he was being treated, and fought harder against the mistreatment.

"It speaks of a deliberate attempt to cause harm, whatever his motive." Ignis turns, and bows to Noctis's father, stern on his chair. "I must defer to your justice, your Majesty, but if there is even a shred of leniency in your attitude, I beg you, dispense of it."

"Have no fear," Noctis's father says, and his scowl could cut through steel, "I have no intention of being merciful. The traitor is stripped of his status, of his assets and his name. Have him interred in our deepest cells until we decide on a punishment fitting for him."

Cor steps forward, at that. "Sire, if I may -- have the palace guards remove him, not one of our number."

"For what reason?"

"I do not think he will make it to the cells if one of us takes him," Cor says, and snorts. "He might deserve death, but not this way."

Noctis's father sits up straighter. "Acceptable."

Wait a minute. Haven't they thought about it? The palace guards are good men, but Baranthus is Crownsguard. Noctis stands up, and his father's eyes go straight to him.

"Your Majesty," Noctis says, and then every eye in the chamber is looking at him, including an aghast-looking Ignis. Tough. Noctis definitely has a right to be here, for this. "Revoke his armory."

His father's eyebrows go up, and then he nods, and focuses his attention below Noctis, narrowing his eyes in concentration. Noctis feels it, almost a yanking sensation as the man is excised from the collective link to the ancient powers of Lucis. From the looks of the assembled Crownsguard, they all feel the severing. Good.

His father looks back up at him and nods. "My son, do you have a request for the man's punishment?"

"Uh." Noctis panics; shit, what are the rules on treason? "Just, don't exile him. He might go to the Empire."

"That has already been considered, yes. He is a danger to Lucis. We will keep him in our lands."

"Stick him in a mine?" Noctis rubs at the back of his head. Yeah, that'd be a good start. "Make him work, your Majesty."

His father nods, and gestures at Cor. There's some activity below Noctis; doors opening, words exchanged.

Ignis pushes his glasses back up his nose, and clears his throat. "The Crownsguard will all submit to investigation, beginning with myself--"

Cor's voice, below Noctis, "--no, beginning with me. No man will go unchecked."

"Very well. But I will have answers as to why this could even have happened," Ignis says. "We have broken the trust; I do not doubt it will take a long time before the Prince truly regains faith in us."

He's not wrong, at that. Noctis can't say he trusts anyone very much right now. Since people are still glancing up at him, Noctis nods, as regally as he can, and sits back down.

Below him, it sounds like Baranthus is being led out; the Crownsguard are all turning their faces away. Good. Shunning is the least they can do.

"Certainly my faith has been shaken," Noctis's father says, solemnly. "And I must take my share of the blame; I failed my son, as his father."

Oh, that hurts; Noctis doesn't want his father to feel bad about any of this. It's really not his fault. Maybe it's not really Noctis's fault either, but, well. It's more not his father's fault.

"Well, now, if the Prince permits," Ignis says, and he's looking directly up at Noctis now, "I will begin to assist him in repairing some of the damage done. Your Highness, if I may?"

It takes a moment for Noctis to realise he's being encouraged to leave, and he stands and makes as dignified an exit as he can.

Ignis is waiting for him in the antechamber. "You weren't supposed to see that," he says, though he doesn't look annoyed. "But I should have known you'd find a way."

"Come on, you can't tell me it wasn't my business."

"No, I won't say that." Ignis puts a hand on Noctis's elbow, prompting him to walk towards the lifts. "But I expected Prompto to keep you distracted longer. Not that I directed him to do so, before you accuse him of conspiracy."

"Funny thing is, I ran out of money."

"...drat."

Noctis grins. "I'm pretty mad about that, I am. But also, wow, you just ticked off the whole Crownsguard for me."

"I did." Ignis snorts. "When did you sneak in, out of interest?"

"Around about the 'abysmal failure of duty' bit."

"Oh heavens, Noct, you missed most of the proceedings. I was positively scathing in my interrogation of Baranthus."

"Yeah?" Noctis will have to ask Gladio for more details. "Well, uh. Thanks."

Ignis stops, suddenly. "Don't thank me for that. It was more than warranted, as was the ticking off. You are owed apologies by everyone in that room, and I include myself and your father in that number."

Not this again. "Don't say that about my Dad, please."

"He admitted it himself, Noct." Ignis takes his glasses off and pinches his nose. "I can't pretend that any--"

"You've got a headache," Noctis guesses. "Did you sleep last night at all?"

"Not appreciably."

"Then go to bed, Specs. I'll finish yelling at you tomorrow."

Ignis smiles, and puts his glasses back on. "Very well. I'll see you in the morning, then."

"G'night."

--

By the morning, Noctis has has time to think everything through a few times. Okay. Ignis is doing his best to fix everything, he thinks, but maybe he needs a few pushes and nudges to get things right if they're going to get everything back where it should be. Number one on Noctis's list is for Ignis not to make Noctis's dad feel bad. That's not cool; Noctis's dad is busy and of course he relies on the Crownsguard to do their duty.

Number two is apologies. Noctis thinks he'd like a lot of apologies, if everyone's in agreement that this mess really wasn't his fault.

Ignis drives him to school the next morning. They stop off on the way for drive-thru pancakes -- a thing Noctis didn't even know you could buy -- and Ignis tells Noctis he'll pick him up later, and then he's gone, off to do whatever things Ignis has deemed he has to do that day. Meetings, from the sound of it, ones he's taken off Noctis's schedule. Noctis doesn't care, if he's honest. For some stupid reason he's even more tired today than he's been in a while, and if he can just get through today without passing out at his desk then he'll be glad.

Noctis opens his satchel for the first study class, since there's no exams that morning, and along with all his school stuff there's about five different types of snackfood. He grins. It's all junk food, but maybe Ignis thinks that's more likely to make Noctis eat.

There's also a small roll of money, with a note that says Ignis will get his allowance fixed today. Good.

By the time Ignis picks him up, Noctis has fumbled his way badly through the Literature exam, and is totally out of energy. It's an effort to get out of his seat, and a huge effort to pick up his schoolbag, and he's so glad that Ignis has parked in the nearest space.

He slumps into the passenger seat, and Ignis actually leans across him to get his seat belt and plug it in for him. By the time the car's turned around in the school yard, Noctis is most of the way asleep.

When he wakes up, he's in his bed in the Citadel, with Gladio frowning down over him, creepy-close.

"You were way out of it," Gladio says, when Noctis bats him away. "Ignis was worried."

"Mm, just napping."

"Napping so hard you didn't wake up when I carried you up here."

Okay, that's pretty bad. Noctis sits up. "I didn't?"

"I think you're suffering withdrawal symptoms," Ignis says from the doorway, and he waggles one of the energy drink cans. "Sugar, caffeine, taurine, a host of other chemicals. Your system's feeling the absence. Were you okay at school?"

"Not… not really, not in the afternoon."

"I see. If you can bear it, I think food and coffee might help you?"

"I'll choke it down, somehow." Noctis smiles, and stretches. "I feel better for the nap already."

There's real food, in the kitchen; omelette wrapped around fried rice, enough for all three of them. Gladio seems super uncomfortable, which Noctis doesn't quite comprehend in his bleary state, until it clicks. Oh. He's supposed to be mad at Gladio, probably madder at him than at Ignis.

"You gonna take me fishing?" he asks, around a mouthful of rice. "Maybe this weekend?"

"Ah," and Gladio looks at Ignis, who nods very slightly. "I can do. You wanna try the reservoir this time?"

"That's the place with the grouper fish, right? Sounds good."

"We can camp up there overnight, make a whole thing of it," Gladio says, and then nods at Ignis. "Iggy, you can tag along too if you like."

"You just want me to cook your catches for you."

"Yep." Gladio grins. "Come on, city boy. Get on out, watch the stars with us."

Ignis gives Noctis a brief, amused glance at that. "I'll take Noct out stargazing another time. I'm needed here for the investigations."

"...oh." Gladio shrugs. "Alright, then."

Gladio doesn't stay long after dinner, and somehow what happens is this: Ignis, going through folders of documents with a red pencil, on the sofa, while Noctis plays Rifle Ninja TK-Ultra.

It's not like it used to be, once upon a time. Ignis keeps getting up to get more coffee, water, snacks, until Noctis feels like he's really going to burst from the amount of stuff he's ingested. Noctis can't get comfortable, despite the cushions and the blanket. The game seems harder than he remembers, and Ignis seems too busy to help him out, so he flubs the third-level boss because the 2-player AI can't seem to aim at the right targets, and then he's too tired to redo the level.

He pulls the blanket up, and flops against the arm of the sofa. He wakes up briefly, when Ignis gently lifts his head and slides a pillow beneath it, and then when Ignis turns off the console and bids him goodnight.

"G'night," he manages, in response. "Don't work too hard."

"Sweet dreams, Noct."

Chapter Text

Over the next few weeks, Noctis seems to be recovering physically from the strains of life under Baranthus's influence. He fills out a little, his cheeks regaining some of their softness. His skin loses that sallow greyness, and a good haircut does a lot to restore him to neatness.

Outside the physical aspects, however, things are nowhere near as simple.

Gladio takes Noctis out, overnight, for their fishing trip. It takes about two hours before Gladio calls Ignis, in a huff, to complain about Noctis being unhelpful and lazy, leaving Gladio to unpack their supplies and set up the tent by himself while Noctis fishes.

"Did you ask him to help?"

"Of course! And he said he would do it later, and cast another line."

Ignis sighs. "Gladio, he's testing you. Unless you've forgotten, you are trying to earn his forgiveness. Frankly, I think he's letting you off lightly if he's merely insisting you perform the manual labour on this trip."

"...you gotta point."

"Go, put up the tent, grill whatever he catches you, and try not to forget that he has significantly more moral high ground than any of us, right now. Make nice."

"Yeah, alright."

Two days later Ignis is the one having to remind himself of this advice, as the Crown Prince of Lucis puts up a rather stroppy resistance to the idea of packing up his belongings to move them to his new apartment. He doesn't want to go back in there, he says, and this isn't unreasonable per se, but he doesn't want people pawing through his stuff either, because he's sick of that.

Ignis bites his tongue, tells Noctis just to pack whatever he doesn't want anyone else to handle, and spends most of a day packing everything away himself. It's inconvenient in the extreme, but it means that Noctis gets more or less what he wants, and once everything's in boxes Ignis recruits some of the Crownsguard he can personally vouch for to actually lift and carry.

At the other end, Ignis also unpacks everything critical, and then tells Noctis to unpack in his own time. He's aware that Noctis might leave some boxes unpacked for weeks, but, well, that's Noctis's privilege and problem.

Ignis fields more personal matters, too. Lunches with family. Dinners with friends in Insomnia. Emails to friends in Altissia. And Flavius phones him, finally; one sad, dignified conversation where they both pretend they will happily continue with friendship, and once he hangs up Ignis knows he probably won't talk to Flavius again. At least not until the pain of separation is much, much more dulled by time, and possibly not even then. It's a raw wound, and there's no need to scour acid into it by reminding himself of what he's lost.

He cries, even so, knowing it's foolish to weep for this. The relationship was never meant to last.

The Crownsguard investigation is a wash-out. It's a frustrating time for Ignis. He's certain Baranthus can't be the only bad apple in what is, frankly, an overfull barrel. But loyalty is a hard thing to quantify, and the motives and ambitions within a man's heart are murky to exterior view. Cor tracks down two people who have passed information to Niflheim via intermediaries in Tenebrae, but they're small fry at best. Most of the Crownsguard are given penalties to salary and perquisites -- after an internal agreement on the matter -- to signify their collective failure to perform a core duty. Ignis approves. Let this whole incident stand as a black mark on all their records.

Noctis's exam results come back; a few results so abysmal it's alarming, but on most things Noctis has passed adequately, and his History and Geography results are excellent. Ignis makes a fuss of the good grades, and tells Noctis they'll arrange for him to resit the examinations 'at a less stressful time', and that seems to comfort Noctis sufficiently.

It's a chance remark on Gladio's part about Ignis's upcoming birthday that makes Ignis thoughtful.

"Noctis," he asks, later that same day, looking over at Noctis sprawled out full-length on the sofa with a stripped-down Internal Affairs report in his hand, "what happened on your birthday?"

"Nothing."

That's more or less the impression Ignis has gotten, in fact. "Nothing?"

"The newspapers had a thing, ran articles, you know, the Prince reaching his majority." Noctis gestures, without looking up. "Everyone was busy, though. Me included. So nothing really happened. I got my apartment keys, the day after, that was pretty cool."

It's the most important birthday Noctis has ever had, and it went uncelebrated by his friends and family.

"It's okay," Noctis adds. "I'm a bit old for birthdays anyway."

"If you insist."

--

Noctis looks surprised to see them all when he opens his apartment door, which is all Ignis could really hope for. It's only a small gathering; Gladio, Iris, Prompto and Ignis himself, but there's a cake and gifts for the not-Birthday boy, and after a few weak protests Noctis gives in and accepts that, for a while, they are all going to treat him as if it's his sixteenth birthday.

They all switch off on the racing game, a new and rather expensive one that's Gladio's gift to Noctis, and Noctis looks genuinely relaxed and happy as he trounces them all. Prompto gave him art supplies -- a sweet thought, Ignis thinks -- and Iris contributed money for another controller for the console so three of them can race at the same time. Luna sent Noctis some blue orchids, of all things, and Noctis looks both embarrassed and delighted by the gift.

Ignis's gift will come later, he tells Noctis, and redirects his attention to the food, the game, the friends.

Noctis is narrowly beating Prompto and Iris on the scoreboard when Regis arrives. His expression is so stunned that Ignis thinks, for a moment, that just having his Dad there is really the best gift Noctis could get. They hug, a little awkwardly, and after a brief caress of Noctis's new hair Regis takes over one of the controllers for a few races.

"Ignis has my gift here, I believe," he says, and Ignis ducks into the closet to retrieve it.

'It' is a laptop; Noctis's old one has been rather battered around in the search for evidence, and Regis had liked the idea of replacing one of the things 'that man' had touched. Noctis is wide-eyed in astonishment, and can't stop saying that it's way too much for a not-even-real birthday celebration.

Regis just chuckles at Noctis's delight, and then sighs, and says, "Well then, Ignis. I believe we're not done spoiling my son today. Come on, outshine my gift."

"Huh?"

Ignis raises an eyebrow. "You're certain you don't wish to bask in his admiration a little longer, your Majesty?"

"No, go on, steal my child's affection away with your extravagances."

"If you insist." Ignis pats his pocket. "Noct, this isn't a gift from me alone. It's a gift from the Crownsguard. And it's, well, more sturdy than stylish, until you've learned your way around. A starter, you might say."

Noctis looks baffled. "A starter what?"

Ignis lifts the keys out of his pocket. "A starter car."

"Oh my god." Noctis stares at the keys. "You got me a car?"

Regis, next to him, chuckles. "It's a traditional gift, at sixteen."

"No it's not," Prompto says, and then Gladio puts a hand over his mouth.

"Well, it was in my day," Regis says, and waves a hand. "A tradition in our family, then."

Noctis is up and opening the doors on the balcony. "Can I see it from here?"

Ignis points it out, parked for exactly this reason in the car park below; a solemn saloon car in drab grey, several years old, designed more for safety than speed. Noctis makes pleased noises nonetheless, and wants to go down and see it right away. Ignis talks him into waiting until later; he can see it when everyone leaves.

"My own gift," Ignis adds, "is primarily that I will be putting my life at risk in letting you drive with me in the car."

"You're teaching me?"

"Heavens, no, we have an instructor for you. But once you've obtained a permit to practise on real roads, I will serve as your license-holding passenger any time you need."

Noctis, there on the balcony, leans against Ignis, wordless but happy. It's a familiar weight, and as soon as he does it Ignis realises it's not something Noctis has done since Ignis returned from Altissia. It makes his throat feel tight. Oh. Forgiveness, then, in part, for his sins.

"In addition," he murmurs, at a low enough volume that it shouldn't carry back to the guests within, "I can drive it myself. We can take it out, when there's a clear sky."

"Outside?" Noctis's voice is quiet, too. "I am very down with that."

"Good." Ignis pushes back against the weight, and then tilts his head backwards in a quick gesture. "Come, let's go back to your party."

--

Noctis's car steers like a lumbering whale, but Ignis supposes that means the Prince will learn to keep his hands on the wheel properly. And it's hardy enough that it can be forced down bumpy country roads at a decent speed, which reassures Ignis. He's not truly certain it's a good idea to drive at night, out here, given the daemons. A miscalculation. If they have to abandon the car… well, best not to borrow trouble. If they have to, then they have to. They'll handle it if it happens.

This expedition is not even sneaking out any more. There's no sneaking involved; they just walk out of their building and get in the car. It was a tad more complicated to get a pass that permitted the car through the southern gate they use, but Ignis is being treated with such reverential respect by the Crownsguard members that he gets one within a few hours of enquiring about it.

They sail through the checkpoint unchallenged.

Noctis laughs and eagerly takes the driving seat when Ignis suggests it. The roads are almost empty, after all, and even Noctis can park adequately where there's no need to reverse or judge distances from other cars.

They set up the campfire, in the purple dusklight, and Noctis darts a look at Ignis.

"I missed this," he says. "I mean, uh. I missed you. Shit, that sounds dumb, but--"

Ignis smiles at him. "I missed you too, Noct."

It earns him a snort and a cynical look. "Suuuuure you did, when you weren't smooching your boyfriend and getting drunk on cheap Altissian wine."

"Ahh."

"Don't kid me, Specs. I'm sure you missed me a bit, but don't pretend you even thought about me half the time."

It's a fair accusation. Ignis stares at the neatly filleted steaks, on the little griddle. "I can't defend myself when you say such things, now, can I?"

"Huh." Noctis wrinkles his nose, and then holds out his hand. "Show me a photo, will you?"

"Of what?"

"This boyfriend of yours."

Oh. Ignis has, in an effort to stop himself pining, deleted most of his photos from Altissia. It takes him a while to find one of him with Flavius, from a party in Demain's house, and he hands his phone over so Noctis can see.

"Whoa, he's hot," Noctis says, looking surprised. "I mean, I figured he'd be cute -- but no, really, he's gorgeous. And look how happy you are. No wonder you're so smitten with this guy."

The use of the present tense makes Ignis feel rather pained. "We're not still an item."

"Wait, what?"

"He… ah, we didn't think we could handle the distance."

"What an asshole," Noctis says, huffily. "What, he couldn't come visit?"

"It's not the same." Ignis takes his phone back. "And it was never going to last past the end of my assignment. I like Flavius a lot, but he's… well."

Noctis tips his head to one side, an invitation to continue.

"He's very affectionate by nature, and I suspect he'd wither without being touched," Ignis says, and stares into the fire. "And while I'm sure he's sad I'm gone, I imagine he'll find someone new, soon enough."

"Yeah, no, I don't get it at all," Noctis says, slowly. "I think I'm more the, I like someone, keep liking them forever, sort of person."

"That's hardly a flaw." Ignis pulls himself together; heavens, getting maudlin about Flavius to Noctis, of all people. "Constancy is a good thing. Not that I resent how Flavius is; it's… ah, it's reassuring, I suppose. I didn't break his heart too badly by leaving."

"And what about yours?" Noctis asks.

"...I guarded myself against it," Ignis says, which is true and also evasive. "Though I'm not keen to put myself back on the market yet, as it were."

"Right."

"And you," Ignis says, because really, enough about him. "How is your heart, these days?"

"I went on a couple of dates with girls from school, just after you left," Noctis says -- a surprise, though perhaps it shouldn't be -- and then he wrinkles his nose. "But nah. It didn't go anywhere with them."

"A pity."

"No, not really." Noctis shrugs. "And then I didn't have time. But a boy in my class asked me out, earlier this week. I told him I'd think about it."

Ignis turns the rather charred steaks over.

"I dunno. I don't feel it, you know? I mean, I've fancied people, and I don't feel like that about him. But I might as well give it a go. Can't hurt that much to try."

"I suppose not."

The stars blossom above them, as the skies darken. Noctis lies back on his blanket, and seems utterly absorbed in the spectacle above them. They don't talk much more; Ignis retrieves the telescope from the car when Noctis asks for it, but after that Noctis seems content just to stare upwards in silence.

Thankfully -- thankfully -- the drive back to Insomnia is easy and daemon-free. The whole adventure was a success, Noctis seems happy, and the stars shone brightly overhead. And yet, Ignis feels discontent, and he can't quite work out why.

--

"Huh," Gladio says, over drinks the following evening. "Well, he asked, so don't feel bad about spilling to him."

"I suppose so."

"But, uh, seriously, Iggy?"

"Mm?"

"When you want to date again, most any of the Crownguard would jump at the chance."

That's a bizarre assertion, and Ignis frowns.

"I'm serious. Your makeover's got everyone in a bit of a tizzy over you."

Makeover? Oh. Ignis looks down at himself. His Insomnian wardrobe had been, when he'd resumed it, so drab that it had left him unwilling to wear it. As a result, he's still wearing the clothing he bought for work in Altissia, clothing that has now undergone the requisite Crownsguard tailoring tweaks. It's definitely a style all his own, he knows that, but he hardly thinks it's that fascinating. "Clearly the Crownsguard needs better things to focus their attention on."

"What, aside from the hot guy that gave them all confused boners while he shredded apart a traitor on the stand? Yeah, can't see why they'd be fawning over him at all."

"You're exaggerating."

"No, Iggy, I'm really not. You turn heads, what, you don't know that?"

"Come now, we've talked about this. At least buy me flowers."

"Ha." Gladio sips his beer. "Well, I ain't into men, and even I think your ass is distracting as hell. All that tight clothing, makes people look."

"Gladio?"

"Yeah?"

"In the last month, how many times have you buttoned your shirt closed?"

That earns him a laugh. "Yeah, alright. But, ah… ah, maybe I oughtn't say."

"Oughtn't you, now."

Gladio looks away, towards the bar, and sighs. "The kid's got a crush on you."

The kid, from Gladio in public places, is always Noctis. Which is preposterous. Noctis can't possibly have a crush on Ignis. It's unthinkable. "No."

"I'm serious, and I've thought it for a long time." Gladio picks up his bottle. "I just figure you should know, so you can let him down gently if he does anything about it."

This comes from Gladio, and Gladio is good at people, generally, so Ignis turns the idea round a few times in his head. "I suspect you're confusing gratitude for my help with--"

"Naw." Flat, absolute denial. "I mean, he's grateful, don't get me wrong. Who wouldn't be? You came back and rescued him, restored him to everyone's good graces, fought back the evil dragon, all that. But grateful ain't the only reason why he watches you all starry-eyed, or why he talks about you so much when you're not there. He's got a crush, pure and simple. Now, I've told you, and you can take it from here. End of subject."

Right, well. If Gladio's right, then… then Noctis is handling it like an adult, Ignis thinks. Noctis has a date, that weekend, with this boy from his class. Giving others a chance to romance him, to distract him, stop him from having inappropriate feelings for his Chamberlain. It makes him feel rather proud of Noctis, and then he remembers how absurd a notion it even is for Noctis to fancy him, and then he decides he's just going to dismiss the whole thing out of hand. Gladio's wrong, that's all.

But it's a warming thought, all the same. Ignis rather likes being admired. He can't possibly encourage it, if there's any truth to it, but he... Well, he's flattered, immensely. He'll just have to be responsible, that's all.

--

"Do I look alright?"

Noctis is standing in Ignis's doorway, dressed in a simple black suit, one that actually fits him properly. His hair is carefully styled, framing his face and then spiking at the back in the current fashion. It makes him look rather handsome, emphasises his unusual eyes and makes them even more striking.

His expression is wide-eyed and pleading, and that makes Ignis's heart go thump, hard, before he regains his focus. "Context, Noct?"

"For my date."

"Oh." Ignis frowns. "Where are you going?"

"I don't know." Noctis spreads his hands out. "Tiln's picking, not me."

"Possibly not the cravat, then. A bit much."

Noctis fumbles at his throat, and Ignis steps forward and starts unravelling it for him. "Tiln. That's his name?"

"Tilnacio. He hates it, he says." Noctis makes an amused noise. "Says it sounds too pretentious."

Noctis's cravat is tangled oddly, at the knot, and Ignis has to squint at it to figure out what he's done. "I see. Will you need me to give you the talk, then, after all?"

"What?" Noctis blinks, and then laughs and pushes Ignis in the chest, playfully. "Oh god, no. Don't you dare."

"Are you sure?" Ignis finds the problem, an extra knot where there shouldn't be one. "I can even provide anecdotal advice, now."

Noctis's eyes widen in horror. "Anec--oh god, no, no personal stories, geez, I'm good."

Ignis pulls the cravat free, and takes a step back. "Unfasten the top button."

"What, and look like you? Pfah." But Noctis does so; it softens the look, as Ignis had thought, makes it less formal.

"There. Fit for nearly anywhere," Ignis declares.

Noctis pushes past him, to the mirror on Ignis's wall. He stares at himself, fidgets with his collar. "Okay. Good. I don't know why I'm so nervous. I don't even know if I like this guy."

"No?"

"But, you know, that's okay. I just like… I like this bit, you know? Dressing up, getting hyped. When it's all just potential, before anything can go wrong."

"I hope it goes well." Ignis says, and pats Noctis on the shoulder. "You look splendid, Noct. Very handsome. He's a lucky man."

That earns him a startled, confused look. "Um. Well. He's meeting me outside."

"You'll be fine. And if things go badly, phone me and I will make an excuse so you can leave."

"You're the best."

"Yes, so I'm told. Go on, shoo. Enjoy your date."

With Noctis gone, emitting nervous anticipation and excitement with every movement, Ignis permits himself a moment of self-aware horror.

Noctis looks grownup and healthy and handsome. And Ignis finds he doesn't much like the idea of that handsomeness being aimed at someone else, not now he's spent a night quietly being flattered by the notion that Noctis might fancy him.

He takes off his glasses, and pinches his nose, hard. Oh, Gladio. Why put this insidious idea in his head? It's completely unsuitable, on all fronts. Noctis shouldn't have a crush on Ignis; they've grown up together, and familiarity is not supposed to lead to infatuation. And for his part, Ignis absolutely, certainly shouldn't have been contemplating, as he unknotted Noctis's cravat, what exactly it might be like to pull Noctis a little closer, to pull Noctis's face upwards by the chin, to dip his head and taste Noctis's lips with his.

If there's a crush here, Ignis thinks, ruefully, then it's the ridiculous, ill-fated one brewing in Ignis's chest.

--

Noctis is at his table, working on some sketches, and Ignis sets down his paperwork carefully to one side of the mess of materials scattered all over it.

"Have you eaten?"

"Nah, I was waiting for you." Noctis waves a hand in a way that indicates the whole kitchenette. "There's stuff."

Which is probably an invitation for Ignis to cook something. Ignis considers declining, but, well, he's still aware he's not entirely back in Noctis's good graces yet. "Any requests?"

"Meaty." Noctis frowns at whatever he's doing, and then flips over to a new page. "No carrots."

Hmm. Noctis has actually purchased vegetables recently, it transpires, though it takes Ignis a while to think of how to use put the ingredients together. Bolognese, he decides, in the end, albeit a slightly unusual variant given that it will involve string beans and potatoes in the sauce.

"How was your date?"

"Huh?" Noctis looks up, expression blank, and then he scowls. "Ah, a bit of a bust."

"Oh."

"Geez, you don't have to laugh at me, it wasn't my fault it was crap."

Ignis wasn't laughing, but his mouth was tugging upwards at the sides, because thank god, Noctis doesn't like this boy after all. He forces himself not to smile. "What happened?"

"He was boring. Cute, but a snoozefest." Noctis sighs, and leans back in his chair, inspecting the heel of his hand, black with pencil lead from where he's pressed it against his work. "I mean, maybe he's not completely dull, but he likes stuff I don't care about, so, same diff."

"I'm sorry."

"It's just frustrating, I guess. But then maybe I shouldn't be dating until everything's sorted with my grades again?"

"Hmm." Ignis begins to peel the potatoes. "Perhaps I shouldn't encourage you. But if someone interesting snags your attention, I'll be damned if I let Baranthus be your reason for not giving it a whirl."

"...oh." Noctis snorts, and sits up again. "When you put it that way, no, fuck him."

"Don't fuck him, Noct, he's a condemned man. Have some standards. Set your Baranthus higher, as it were."

Noctis's mouth falls open in horror, and then he clutches at his chest and makes a choking sort of laughing noise. "Oh my god, Ignis."

"Too soon?"

"Definitely, holy crap." But Noctis is giggling, despite himself, as he picks up his pencils again. "I can't believe you."

Ignis lets the smile take hold, this time, and goes back to cooking.

Chapter Text

Noctis smiles over at Cassia, who smiles and looks away. It's a sweet, shy sort of affectation, something Noctis often sees girls doing on dates so that guys don't think they're too forward.

Unfortunately, Noctis can't say he's very interested in Cassia, whether she's forward or not.

They're on a double-date -- Cassia is Naomi's friend, so Prompto thought it would be nice if they all went out together. It's fine. Noctis is getting to see what Prompto and his girlfriend are like together on a date, if nothing else. Adorable, it turns out; they're a really chirpy and happy couple, the sort who have tons to say to each other all the time. They're also clearly determined to include Noctis and Cassia in their conversation, so they get enthused and start babbling at each other about whatever it is, and then stop, and turn to ask questions of Cassia and Noctis, and then the conversation cycles back to them babbling at each other again.

It's a cute show, but Noctis wishes he was playing third wheel, so he could quietly slope away and let them be. Cassia doesn't seem bad. She's pretty. She loves animals, which is a definite plus, and she's a decent swordswoman, and she's probably quite clever. But Noctis is pretty sure she's embarrassed about being smart, which he's swiftly realising is a problem -- he likes people who aren't ashamed of their intelligence, or of anything they're good at.

Like Ignis, he thinks, and tries not to roll his eyes at himself for thinking it.

But it's true, and -- he reasons to himself -- it's not even just Ignis. Noctis likes self-assurance and competency. Maybe it's because of spending so much time with the Crownsguard over the years, all those confident men and women who aren't shy about being good at things. Pretending you're not skilled or clever or athletic seems kind of… misleading.

His hand hovers over his phone. He could text Ignis, ask to get him out of this date. Prompto and Naomi are giggling over some private joke. Prompto wouldn't even notice Noctis doing it.

"I like your jacket," Cassia says, politely.

Noctis looks down at it. "Thanks. It was a Somerval gift from a friend."

"That's nice."

"Your bag's really cute." It is, too, shaped like a stylised dog, but it's the second time Noctis has mentioned it so he needs to find something else to comment on. "And, uh--"

"It's okay, you know," she says, conversationally. "I mean, you're cute and all, but you're not my type."

Noctis raises his eyebrows at that. "Oh."

She leans in. "I'm just here to shut Naomi up. I like one of our teachers and she thinks I'm gonna do something dumb about it, so she's dragging me along. I'm not," and she sighs. "Of course I'm not, he's married, but she's got it into her head."

"Huh." Noctis thinks about the teachers at school. "Mr Laenia, right?"

"Oh god."

"You and like half the girls in the year." Noctis grins. "And some of the guys."

She buries her face in her hands.

"What are you two whispering about, huh?" Prompto asks, leaning across the table. "Do I hear lovebirds tweeting?"

"No, we're just gossipping." Noctis relaxes. This he can handle; the girl doesn't want a Prince for a beau, and so, he's just having food with friends. It's not a date after all. Good. "Right, okay, so, a question for the table: how awful is the food here, and do you think we'll ever find out?"

--

The extra tutor they hired to help Noctis catch up on all the subjects he failed in is lovely. Kind, motherly, smart, takes no nonsense. Noctis likes her immediately.

She also seems immune to Ignis's charms, even though Noctis has seen nearly every member of the Citadel staff scoping Ignis out over the past few weeks. She catches Noctis sneaking looks a few times when he should be studying -- Ignis is often in Noctis's rooms, and when Ignis is making tea then Noctis gets a great view from his seat -- and she raps Noctis on the knuckles sharply each time, shaking her head in faux-dismay at him for being distracted. At least she seems to think the whole thing is funny.

He manages to free up enough time to train with Gladio again, twice a week. Gladio's being noticeably nice to Noctis, at the moment. It means he's going a bit easy on Noctis. Honestly, Noctis kind of needs that laxness; he's way out of condition, and if Gladio was going rough on him then Noctis would be a mess of bruises. If Gladio's being careful like this because he feels guilty then, good, he should still feel bad for what happened. Everyone should.

That said, Noctis has mostly forgiven the Crownsguard for what happened. His counselor, the one Ignis insisted on, says Noctis forgives too easily, but, well. They're his Crownsguard, and resenting them just makes life a more miserable place.

Ignis is the one he's stuck on, despite everything.

It's not Ignis's fault he went away. It's not really even Ignis's fault that he stayed longer -- Noctis told him he could, Cor told him he could. What it is, Noctis knows, is that Ignis believed Noctis capable of screwing up that far all by himself, that he'd thought Noctis so far beyond help that he'd wanted to wash his hands of him.

Which isn't fair, really, because hey, Noctis had believed it was all his own fault too. But Ignis is supposed to be smarter than him, to always have his back, to have faith in Noctis no matter what. They weren't just Prince and Chamberlain, they were friends. Good friends. And so it feels like the worst betrayal of all for Ignis to have just, well, given up like that. As if their friendship meant nothing to him.

Even if it was only temporary. Even if Ignis figured it all out and yelled at everyone and got Baranthus taken away and fixed Noctis's life for him. Even if Ignis is being as wonderful as he used to be before, making up for his missed birthday and getting him driving lessons and all the rest of it. Even if Ignis is confident and stylish and funny and supportive and all the rest of it.

If things go wrong again, if Noctis doesn't manage to live up to expectation, what's going to stop Ignis from just walking away this time?

So Noctis smiles and sneaks looks and gets his knuckles rapped and tries to reconcile his yearning with his position and his gratefulness and that little core of angry resentment.

It's hard. It means that when Ignis comes over, they'll be talking about something and suddenly Noctis will find his fingers curling into fists, and that he's having to bite his tongue on some comment about Ignis's oh-so-blissful-sounding time in Altissia, or on how Ignis is going to find a new man and run off. And then Ignis will make some joke or smile in that confident way of his, and in return Noctis gets so swept up by liking Ignis that he can't even remember why he was so angry.

--

Having a car at all is still novel. The car itself is old-fashioned, boring and designed to give nobody any real thrills over it. It's Noctis's and not the Citadel's, so in theory he could get it repainted or add decals or whatever he likes, but honestly he likes how generic and anonymous it is. The diplomatic license plates are the only giveaway, and even then, half the people in the Citadel have those. It makes him feel normal, and that's a precious thing.

Prompto and he make plans together. When Noctis gets his license, then he can drive all of them around. Maybe Prompto can go fishing with him and Gladio. Or maybe they can go up to the zoo, the big one in that western suburb, and go look at all the big cats whenever they like. The weight of the keys in his pocket is pleasing, a reminder of freedoms in his future.

Driving itself turns out to be a weird combination of terrifying, boring, and awesome.

It's terrifying being on the city roads in busy traffic, with his instructor or Ignis in the seat next to him, because Insomnia drivers have a well-deserved reputation for ruthless driving.

It's boring when they're driving around the deserted practice circuits, because there's no challenge. Noctis knows the practice is useful, and sometimes they get to do something nobody else would get to do in practise; Noctis can use a little borrowed magic to ice the road, so he'll know how to handle his car in the worst winter months. But even that's not exciting, it's just useful.

But driving is awesome when the traffic's not crazy, and one evening they go outside the city and Ignis lets him take a turn driving to their haven. It's the most freeing experience Noctis has had in ages. Him, in control of the whole car, with the radio cranking out old songs about love and Ignis smiling in the passenger seat and Leide's dusty hills flitting past outside.

Usually he can persuade Ignis to come collect him from school in the car, and then to let him drive them back to the Citadel or to the apartment building they both now live in. It's not that far a journey, but it makes Noctis feel like a grownup just to be able to drive himself home.

He even gets to officially be outside Insomnia, for a trip to the refugee project he and Ignis created, and Ignis lets him drive for quite a long time -- they're in a convoy, and there's no possible way Noctis can really mess it up, but it's still a big deal to be permitted to drive himself -- and when they get to their refugee project in Cavaugh they're taken on foot around the new buildings and the farm fields and the rows of winter crops just poking through the soil.

Ignis, as they walk back to the car, points out that this is all because of Noctis. Noctis is the one that went to all the meetings and juggled all the figures and argued his way to get these people a fair deal. It's not something Noctis had thought about, and it's a bit overwhelming. He did this, all by himself. He helped these people, got them loaned the land by the crown and helped organise the building of the village that supports the farms. It's because of Noctis that these people are now producing much-needed food that will end up on tables all over Lucis.

It's the one positive legacy of Baranthus's time as his Chamberlain, Noctis realises, that Baranthus's evasion of any actual work means that this achievement owes absolutely nothing to him.

Ignis drives him back, while Noctis flips through the documents and photos and letters pressed upon him by the refugees. It's humbling, Noctis thinks. So much gratitude, so much responsibility. And on a larger scale, this is kind of what his job will be one day. Maybe he won't suck at being the King, in the hopefully-distant future where he'll have to be. Maybe he'll be able to manage it just fine.

--

They're in Ignis's apartment.

Noctis likes Ignis's place. It's always warm, it always smells nice, and there are lots of little ornaments and knick-knacks around the place to pick up and fiddle around with -- and Ignis never minds if Noctis picks something up, saying he likes art he can touch and which should be touched. It's a nice place to hang out in.

Right now, Noctis is revising for an upcoming mathematics exam resit. Ignis is reading, and it's not work for once, it looks like a novel, and so they're both on Ignis's sofa.

Noctis leans his weight against Ignis's side, and then sits up again. "Ugh. Your shirt is--" and he gestures at the line of little raised studs that run all down the length of Ignis's sleeve. "Not comfy."

Ignis gives him a look. "I'm not taking it off, Noct."

"Ugh, as if." Noctis considers, and then pushes Ignis's arm out of the way and turns, so he's facing sideways, pressing his back and shoulders against Ignis's side and pulling his feet up onto the sofa too. It's, well, it's a bit too cosy, Noctis realises, immediately, since he's more or less in Ignis's armpit this way, but maybe Ignis won't mind -- and then Ignis's arm stretches out along the back of the sofa, out of the way, permitting this closeness.

Ignis even smells good, Noctis thinks, tipping his head back, and then, no, come on, focus. Mathematics.

He actually gets pretty into the chapter, following along with the explanations and scribbling in his book with his pencil. Ignis's side is warm against his back, and it feels very relaxing to be curled up like this in a warm, safe space.

It takes him a little while to notice Ignis's hand has shifted from the back of the sofa to fiddling with Noctis's hair. Ignis's elbow is still on the sofa-back. Ignis is still reading. From what Noctis can tell without shifting around so much Ignis would notice, Ignis seems to be pretty deep into his novel. Noctis suspects that Ignis isn't even aware of what he's doing, absent-mindedly combing his fingers through at the back of Noctis's hair, over and over.

It's nice, and not… not that weird, Noctis thinks, as he dips his head forwards a little, encouragingly. Almost like how Noctis's dad used to scritch his head, when he was younger. Comforting.

That continues for a while, then Ignis's fingers twist and drop downwards, the knuckles brushing down the side of Noctis's neck, slow and sexy, and Noctis nearly swallows his tongue.

Fuck. Instant boner time. Does Ignis… is this deliberate? Is Ignis hitting on him?

Ignis's fingers trail downwards, forwards, and then slide beneath Noctis's t-shirt at the front, and that's the point where Noctis just can't take it any more and sits up and says, "Ignis, what the hell?"

There's a moment where Ignis just looks confused, and then he's suddenly mortified, yanking himself away, dropping the book, raising both hands up in front of his mouth, eyes wide.

Right. Not deliberate at all.

"You thought I was your boyfriend," Noctis accuses in a sudden moment of intuition, and the look on Ignis's face confirms it. Noctis grabs the cushion from beneath his feet and swipes it at Ignis. "Oh my god, you did."

"Noct, I--"

"How dare you," Noctis says, and he thumps Ignis with the cushion again. "You just groped me, holy shit."

"I'm so sorry--"

"Yeah, no kidding, what the hell."

Ignis dodges out from under Noctis's blows, gets off the sofa and and backs away, hands up. "I'm so sorry, Noct, I didn't… I can't--"

"You're damned right you can't."

"I--"

"Get out, oh my god, I can't even look at you."

Ignis's expression twists from contrition into confusion. "It's my--"

"Get out."

Ignis locks himself in his bedroom, and Noctis flops backwards on the sofa. Oh, my god. It's appalling, of course, really really not cool, but at the same time… it's kind of hilarious, too. Ignis's face, when he realised.

Noctis pulls the cushion over his face, and giggles into it.

When he's managed to recover his cool, he gets up, and raps on Ignis's door. "Specs?"

"Your Highness?"

"...Ignis, get out here."

The door opens immediately, and Ignis looks so ashamed. As he should. "Your Highness," he says again, "I truly didn't mean it, I wasn't thinking and--"

"I get it, you thought you were back in Altissia or something." Noctis snorts. "I could have you fired, you know."

"You could have me imprisoned," Ignis corrects. "Send me down to share a cell with Baranthus."

"Ha, not likely, you wouldn't be so lucky. He never touched me, remember?"

Ignis's face goes even whiter. "Noct--"

"But I'm not gonna do that. Fuck, it was bad enough last time getting a new Chamberlain, I'm not going through that again."

"Oh."

Noctis shakes his head, in as disapproving a way as he can muster. "Just… take tomorrow off, will you? Go get laid, or whatever it takes to stop you accidentally copping a feel."

"I… um, I assure you, it won't happen again, I--"

"Ah, ah." Noctis holds up a hand. "I don't want arguments. Take tomorrow off. Now, I am going to take my violated body and go back to my apartment."

"...I'm really very sorry, Noctis."

"You'd better be."

Noctis gathers his things, and leaves with his head held high, and allows himself to have another giggle fit once he gets back to his own apartment. It's so ridiculous. Awful, of course. But funny, and Noctis doesn't think he's going to hold it over Ignis for too long. Ignis looks like he's humiliated enough already.

And, well. Noctis lets his hand go to his own neck, where Ignis's fingers had trailed downwards, that slow drag across his skin. Sexy, the motion of someone who seemed to know how to seduce with a touch. It had been thoughtless, unintentional. Fuck. Noctis is going to be thinking about it for ages, about what it would be like to have Ignis do that on purpose, what it would be like if he'd meant it.

No more mathematics tonight. Straight to bed, with the echo of that touch lingering on his skin.

--

Ignis is so careful around him, after that. On his most prim behaviour, definitely, careful not to even incidentally touch Noctis. Noctis can't help prodding at that a bit, letting himself bump elbows with Ignis as they walk down corridors together just to see him flinch away.

Noctis lets Ignis do the invisible-barrier thing until he's finished with his examination resits, because Ignis should stew in what he's done for a while.

Once the last exam is over, however, he figures he can let Ignis off the hook. A bit.

"Specs? Take me home."

"You're not driving?"

"Nah, give you last one chance. Unless I flub my test."

"You won't. Gladio expects you to drive him out for lunch after your training session, I believe."

"Better hope I pass then, or you'll be in the back seat." Noctis leans back. "You gonna cook tonight?"

Ignis glances over. "I certainly can, if you'd like?"

"Mm, please."

"We'll need to stop off for groceries."

"Fine by me."

Noctis hasn't ever shopped with Ignis before, because it's always been easier to have people bring groceries to his apartment. It's weird, watching Ignis check his phone for recipes, compare packets of meat to decide which one is better -- they're all just slabs of flesh, Noctis can't see what the difference is -- and then look over the spices. Noctis quietly takes photos of Ignis's thoughtful face, to tease him with later, because seriously how can one man be this concerned over herbs?

It's not bad, though. It's sweet, how much Ignis cares about things like this, about getting everything right. Noctis gives his opinion, the one time Ignis asks for it -- red berries, for the dessert, not the blue ones -- and pushes the trolley around behind Ignis, and marvels at how much stuff is going to go into whatever Ignis is cooking for him. He adds some dog treats to the cart, and then has to explain they're for Umbra, because Ignis gives him the oddest look, like he thinks Noctis eats the things himself. Sheesh.

Back at the apartment building, Ignis tells him to go get changed out of his uniform, and that he'll start cooking so Noctis should just let himself into Ignis's place when he's ready.

Noctis thinks for a bit. Jeans. T-shirt. Look as normal as possible -- in fact, Noctis goes and digs around in his wardrobe a bit. This t-shirt was the one he was wearing when Ignis had his little moment, so, this one is the one Noctis will wear now.

Dinner is amazing, clearly something Ignis has decided to make as a treat. Noctis guesses it's a sort of continued apology, in that not-out-loud way Ignis has of being sorry for things. There are five types of dumpling with different meats in each, some steamed and some fried, and all of them really good. Noctis washes them down with tea and scarfs down the sweet flaky pastry Ignis has made for dessert eagerly.

Since he didn't cook, he insists on loading the dishwasher. It means Ignis won't dither about washing everything up, and means that Noctis can play the whole thing casually. Dinner is over, but it's still pretty early, and Ignis isn't going to just ask him to leave.

So Noctis puts on a movie.

Despite Ignis's obvious discomfort with the whole situation, Noctis manages to get Ignis to sit next to him on the sofa to watch it. Ignis leaves a solid, respectable five inches between them, and sits prissily, hands on knees and knees firmly together. Noctis lets Ignis keep his distance for about ten minutes, and then -- without any pretence of doing anything else -- closes the gap and slumps his weight against Ignis's arm, firmly.

"Noct," Ignis says, warningly.

"Ignis? If I say this is cool, it's cool. I get to decide."

Ignis is stiff with discomfort, which makes him an uncomfortable pillow. Noctis persists anyway. The movie is good -- Noctis picked it because it won a bunch of awards -- and Ignis does relax a bit as he gets into the movie.

And then the movie ends. Ignis immediately extracts himself from under Noctis's weight, and gets up and starts futzing around with taking the dishes out of the washer, and it's clear that it's a relief for him to be out from underneath Noctis's weight.

Oh well. Small steps. Noctis will have to wear him down to normality. But it'll be worth it.

--

The results come back for the exam resits, and they're good. Good enough that Ignis asks him, all concerned, if Noctis wants to also retake the exams he only got average marks on, since he can do better. Noctis says he'll think about it. More schoolwork right now feels like a bit much to handle, but fixing his grades feels like another satisfying revenge on Baranthus.

His father takes him out for ice cream again, and does it as a surprise, swooping down on him as he walks out of class and stealing him away from Prompto's side with a booming apology that makes Prompto go all red and overwhelmed.

The pretzel and brownie sundae is still amazing.

"So," his father says, and his face is all serious and solemn. "Son, I… I need to tell you how sorry I am."

"No, you don't."

"I think I do. I should have noticed--"

"Geez, Dad, it wasn't your job." Noctis puts down his spoon, suddenly losing his appetite. "Dammit. If this is because of Ignis guilt-tripping you, then he really needs to butt out."

"I let you down, my boy, I don't need anyone to tell me that." His father shakes his head. "I am relieved at how resilient you are. You've made a remarkable recovery."

"Resilient?" Noctis snorts. "Things are better, so I'm better, that's all."

His father inspects his face, as if searching for something. "You've weathered a crisis, and yet you won't take praise for it."

"No, I… oh. I guess so. Okay. Thank you. But it doesn't feel like I'm doing much? Ignis is the one fixing all the actual stuff. I'm just doing what I'm supposed to."

"With aplomb, it seems. I hear only good reports of you; your refugee project in Cavaugh, your charity involvements, your schoolwork. While I'm certain Ignis does deserve some credit, do not downplay your own efforts."

"Alright." Noctis picks up his spoon again. "I just -- there's always more I could be doing? And it feels like I'm playing catchup. I should be training more often, and doing some of the diplomatic stuff to give you a break."

"I, too, often feel as if my commitments overflow the vessel of my time." His father smiles. "If you cannot do everything, you cannot."

"Hm."

"But I am not here to talk about timetables. I hear tell you have a girlfriend now?"

"Huh?" Noctis frowns, genuinely confused, and then wonders if Prompto's run his mouth off at someone. "Cassia? No. I just hang out with her because of our friends. But I… I'm not into her, sorry to disappoint."

"I see. And what happened to your young man?"

Damn. Last time this topic had come up, so very long ago, Noctis had sort of thought he and Ignis might get together one day. A ridiculous thought, now. "He's not interested in me."

His father scowls. "Not interested in the Crown Prince, scion of the line of Lucis?"

"He was seeing someone else, and now, well. He says he's not on the market."

"I… see." His father leans forward, across the table. "Noctis, did you tell him how you feel?"

"Not exactly. It's really complicated, Dad."

"But you still like him."

Noctis shrugs. Of course he still wants Ignis, but that desire is wary, now. Less uncritical. Ignis isn't perfect. Ignis makes stupid mistakes. Ignis thinks he knows everything all the time. Ignis doesn't know how to apologise properly, doesn't seem to be able to get over it when he screws up. Ignis, frankly, is sometimes a messy unpredictable selfish human being.

But Noctis still likes him.

"Well, he's not going anywhere, at least, as far as I know," he says, and buries his own flinch behind another spoonful of dessert. "You never know, right?"

"Never give up hope, son," his father says, and grins. "Not while there's still a chance."

It's a sweet thought, Noctis thinks. His dad, encouraging him. But there's no chance.

Chapter Text

Ignis has never been so ashamed of himself in his life.

It's not merely that he forgot himself enough to touch Noctis in the fashion he did; that is in itself horrifying, of course, but it's not just that. It's that he wasn't thinking entirely of Flavius, when he did.

A scenario had unfurled in his mind, prompted by the intimacy of Noctis curling up into him so snugly. A comparison, really, of how easily Noctis had done so and how alike it was to Flavius's weight against him in Altissia, and then, a contemplation of how it might be if Noctis and he dated, in the future. The two of them, like this all the time, lovers as well as friends. Then a memory of how Flavius had loved having his hair stroked. Of how it felt, to card one's fingers through a lover's hair, affectionately.

Noctis had let him stroke his hair, Ignis thinks, though he can't be certain he didn't imagine that also. And even if Noctis had permitted it, it still pardons nothing.

That alone would have been inappropriate enough. But then, with the weight of a man against him, with soft hair beneath his hands, Ignis had recalled how it had taken so little to prompt Flavius into passion. Would it take as little to entice Noctis?

To realise his fingers had followed the caress in his imagination into reality was… well. Appalling. He is Noctis's advisor, and he is in a sacred position of trust. Noctis truly could have him imprisoned, if he wished. Intent wouldn't matter. Ignis himself has recently reminded the Crownsguard that it is their sworn duty to uphold the Crown's words over those of their own. If Noctis went to Cor, to Clarus, even to Gladio, if he told them that Ignis had slid his hand beneath the Prince's clothing in that fashion, they would be obliged to consider it assault against the Prince's person.

But it's clear that Noctis has elected to forgive Ignis.

Noctis didn't forgive him immediately, thankfully, because Ignis would have distrusted such a thoughtless response. All the same, Noctis has now telegraphed that sentiment clearly, has sought to re-establish the precise boundaries of touch that existed before Ignis's lapse.

But Ignis feels himself shying away, terrified that he might forget himself once again.

--

"Iggy? Come in, Iggy, you there?"

Ignis recollects himself, suddenly. Gladio is staring at him across the dinner that Ignis has cooked, his expression that of frowning concern. "Oh. Sorry."

"You went off to your own planet for a moment there."

"I… apologise. I'm a little preoccupied."

"I'll say. What's eatin' you?"

Ignis shakes his head. "I fear it's rather too complicated."

"Yeah? I got time."

"I... I think I'm interested in someone unsuitable."

Gladio takes his time considering that, eats a few bites of the food. "Alright," he says, eventually, holding up his fork, "I ain't asking who. Don't think I have to."

"Gladio--"

"Uh-uh, I ain't finished. You say unsuitable, so either they're not into guys -- which, well, you're out of luck, then, sucks to be you -- or they're not suitable because of their position. And that's a slim little row of options, one of whom has it for you bad."

Ignis stares down at his food. It's unnerving, having Gladio turn this keen deductive skill of his upon this matter.

"And if it's that particular option -- and look at your face, it is -- then what the hell's the problem? He likes you, you like him. Seems like a good setup to me."

"As I said, it's complicated."

"Why?"

"I'm his Chamberlain, Gladio."

"Right." Gladio takes another mouthful. "Except that you're definitely gonna be more, ah, more suitable than the random kids from school he's been dating up til now, aren't you? I mean, you're trustworthy, you're responsible, you're sensible--"

"--not always."

Gladio inspects Ignis carefully at that. "Alright. Go on."

"If I tell you, please promise not to arrest me?"

Gladio looks startled, and then snorts. "Whatcha do, kiss him already?"

"Worse. Forgot who he was for a moment. Let my hands wander. Very inappropriately." There. That's as succinct a summary as Ignis can fashion, at least without making himself cry at his own foolishness.

"...you pinch his ass or something?"

"No. But a similar level of very wrong."

"Wrong enough that he got mad?" At Ignis's nod, Gladio puts a hand over his face, and drags downwards, comically aghast. "Well, that's awkward. But he can't be that mad at you, or I'd know about it."

"Indeed."

Gladio seems to turn it over a few times, and then shrugs. "I still say he likes you, though."

"I suspect, if he did, he's been rather put off."

"Alright, well, instead of just giving up, why don't you try taking him out? Somewhere nice, romantic. Apologise a few hundred times. You know."

"...I'll think about it."

And Ignis thinks about it. Perhaps Gladio's right. A date might be just the thing that would help; reframe their relationship entirely, make it clear that Ignis's drifting hands weren't just a flashback to Altissia, make it clear that Ignis is interested in Noctis romantically. And if Gladio is right that Noctis returns that interest, then they can move forward from there.

Even as he thinks it, he knows it's an oversimplification. Noctis is the Crown Prince of Lucis. A few dates here and there with schoolfriends is nothing people pay much mind to, at his age. But if Noctis goes on a date with Ignis -- one of his oldest friends, his sworn advisor, his Chamberlain -- then it's automatically something more serious, because of the nature of the relationship between them. It's not forbidden, but then there's never been cause to forbid such a thing.

So Ignis thinks that starting with a declaration of his feelings is indeed wise advice. But it shouldn't be the first step he takes.

--

"Come in. Sit down, please."

Ignis does, cautiously. It's not really in line with protocol, but then, none of this particular interaction has much precedent that he can find.

"Tea? The kitchens give me this abominable stuff without any kick to it, I'm afraid."

"No, thank you, your Majesty."

His Majesty pours himself a cup, and lowers himself into the seat on the other side of the table. He puts a lot of weight on his hands as he does so, Ignis notes, and he resists the urge to get up and help -- the King has made it clear that he resents any assistance of that nature. "There," King Regis says, once he's seated, and he smiles at Ignis. "Now, since I'm certain you're not here just to pay a visit to an old man, what is it that you're here for?"

Ignis can feel his nerves rising up, making his hands shake. "It concerns your son, your Majesty."

"Behind closed doors, Ignis, please at least restrict yourself to 'sir'. You are my son's other parent, after all."

A joke, if an awkward one in these circumstances. "Thank you, sir."

The King picks up his cup, and takes a sip before leaning back in his seat. "I was given to believe that my son is almost as he was before that awful man's interference?"

"Yes, sir. He's doing wonderfully. You should be very proud of him."

"I am, never fear."

Ignis fidgets, uncomfortable. Best to just get it out. "I am here, sir, to ask permission to court him."

"Court -- oh." King Regis sits up at that, and gives Ignis a curious look. "You wish to woo my son?"

"I do, sir."

"That... beggars belief." The King tips his head to one side. "Ignis, you already spend most of your time with my son, a task which I realise is less taxing than it was some time ago, but nevertheless -- my son is your job."

Ignis can only nod.

"Will a romantic involvement with him impede your duties?"

"I… don't know. I hope not." Ignis knows it's a good question, but how can he possibly give an answer? "If it does, I would hope that the Crownsguard are all now alert to a Chamberlain who does not do his job correctly, and that I would be taken to task for my failure."

"Hm." Regis takes another sip. "You're willing to publicise it, then? To allow the Crownsguard to monitor it?"

When put like that, Ignis feels himself cringe. "I… I don't know. I don't think Noctis would want to be monitored."

Regis makes an amused sound. "No, indeed."

There's a pause.

"Well. I think it's a matter for your conscience. And I do wonder: you already let your life revolve around my son. You would undertake to spend even more time with him?"

It's obviously meant as a gentle joke, but Ignis frowns. "I would, sir."

"Heavens. I only wish I knew how my son inspired quite so much devotion."

"He's…" and Ignis doesn't know how to continue, really, but he plows on. "Well, he's grown into a wonderful man, sir. I don't think myself worthy, but I can hope that--"

"Oh, don't give me the humble retainer stuff," the King says, his expression disdainful. "You're a credit to the Crownsguard, I'm not fool enough to think otherwise. And while I appreciate the thought, it is not my choice who my son dates."

"I… thought it best to ask, under the circumstances, sir. Given my position."

"I see. And I can only wish there was no such necessity. I suppose you will have to ask Cor, too."

"...yes, sir."

"My son calls you mother, if I remember rightly."

"In jest, sir."

"I mean only that I think he is very fond of you, Ignis. Be gentle with his heart, if he lets you."

That was, Ignis thought, a very gracious way of saying 'don't hurt my son'. "Thank you, your Majesty."

"Well. Now, if that's all you wished to discuss, can I entreat you to stay a little longer? I would rather like to hear your views on the refugee project my son has so capably been overseeing. If we were to expand it, perhaps duplicate it in Duscae, would it be feasible without the protection the Wall offers--"

Work, then. Ignis welcomes it, lets the discussion soothe his jangled nerves, and puts thoughts of romancing Noctis to one side until later.

--

Cor gives him a weary look. "You want to become the Prince's boyfriend."

"If he'll have me."

A deep, exasperated sigh. "Wonderful. So what are you here for? Tendering your resignation?"

Ignis hadn't considered that option. It would be one solution, he supposes -- cut the professional aspect out, so there's no conflict of interest between his job and this potential romance. Except that he can't possibly abandon his post. Not after everything. Ignis would rather hide his feelings forever, if that's the choice he has. "Is that what you'd recommend, sir?"

"If it weren't you, yes." Cor steeples his fingers. "This is massively inconvenient, Ignis. You're not supposed to get mushy over his Highness."

"I know. I'm sorry. And I feel obliged to say that my attraction to him doesn't depend on him saying yes. Whether we date or not, that feeling--"

"--will persist and cause conflict. I see."

There's a pause. Ignis steels himself.

"Well, his Majesty has already sent me his recommendation. He suggests," Cor says, with an emphasis that implies there's rather more command than suggestion involved, "that officially there should be no impediment to the relationship. We leave it to you to judge if there is a problem, and to notify the appropriate persons if so."

Meaning, Ignis is the one who will decide if he's not able to handle being both Noctis's Chamberlain and Noctis's boyfriend, if Noctis agrees to date him. "That's… very generous, sir."

"I'm inclined to agree. But the King says you can give it a shot." Cor spreads out his hands in a gesture of acceptance. "You are the last person I would expect to allow anything to damage the Prince, so there we stand, trusting you. Do not disappoint me, Ignis."

"I'll do my best, sir."

--

Ignis plans carefully. Not their usual haven in Leide, originally picked because it could be reached safely by public transport, but instead a campsite in Cavaugh, within the safe enclosure of the Wall but technically further away from Insomnia. Ignis is hoping those two facts will mostly cancel out and they'll still get a good spread of stars above them, without the risk of daemons. He doesn't want to be looking over his shoulder for danger tonight.

Noctis drives, with Ignis reading directions from the map he has with him.

From where they park at the side of the road, they can clearly see the tent and the fire and the two people at their little stand-up grill, the woman's arms curled around the man's waist, the two of them laughing together.

"Huh," Noctis says, the engine still purring gently. "I don't wanna intrude on that."

Ignis folds open the map, and squints at it in the failing light. Noctis reaches up, flicks on the overhead light for him, and they work out the closest alternative. They drive about five miles south along the road, and then turn eastwards for a handful of miles. The nearest campsite is right on the edge of the Sound, with a view over the water. There's a dock, visible a few hundred yards northwards, and Noctis's interest is evident as soon as they park.

"Go on," Ignis says, grinning, as he opens the trunk. "I'll set up, get us something to eat."

"Really?"

"Yes." Ignis makes a shooing gesture. "If you catch something, I might even be able to cook it."

That earns him a grateful look, and then Noctis is gone, fishing rod already plucked from his invisible armory. Ignis smiles to himself, amused. It's a nice spot, possibly more scenic than Ignis's first choice was. From here, it's possible to see the scintillations of the Wall, faintly, just where it hits the water's surface. Ignis considers how close the wall is, and how it might be possible to get past it at this edge. Perhaps a thought for another time.

Noctis's temporary distraction allows Ignis to set up undisturbed. He's arranged foods which are treats, mostly, much like their first trip outside the wall. He has a tray, like the one he borrowed from Gladio but on a larger scale; a kettle, for hot water; a small flat pan, for cooking meat and eggs.

By the time Noctis returns, puffed up with pride at the two smallish fish he has managed to catch, Ignis has assembled most of a meal already. Noctis, without too much prompting on Ignis's side, cleans and scales and fillets the fish himself. The resulting slivers of fish are underwhelming in size but they taste splendid when seasoned well and scrambled with the eggs.

Ignis gets out his newest little acquisition -- designed precisely for havens and campsites with fire enhancements, like this one -- and lowers it into place. The tent-like contraption covers the firepit neatly, reducing the flame down to a minimum as it interacts with the enchantments of the site. What's left is enough residual heat for, say, a kettle or a stewpot suspended within the tent-like structure, but no visible flame that could attract bandits to a camp where people are sleeping and defenseless. A clever idea, and exactly right to extinguish a cooking fire when no longer needed.

Noctis plants his hands behind him on the ground, leans his weight back and stares upwards.

"Next time," Ignis says, sipping at his coffee, "we could borrow a boat, row out into the Sound."

"Beyond the edge of the Wall? Huh. Or we could hire chocobos. They swim, right?"

"Also an excellent notion."

Noctis lowers himself onto the floor, tucking the cushion Ignis passes him under his head. He lets out a contented sigh, gazing upwards.

Ignis busies himself. First, tidying away most of their equipment. Then tossing his own cushion down next to Noctis, a more calculated act than he hopes it appears, since he aims it to land right next to Noctis's own. And then, as casually as he can, stretching himself out alongside Noctis, so they're side-by-side under the stars.

It's not quite as stunning as outside the wall might be, perhaps, but the skies are making a fair go of it nonetheless. Purplish-black, and then the splendour of all that night holds, a canopy of twinkling lights, and when Ignis looks over he can clearly see the stars, reflected in Noctis's eyes.

Noctis's arm is between them, conveniently. Ignis mentally readies himself for it, then reaches out and places his hand over Noctis's.

There's a long, silent pause.

"Am I dying?" asks Noctis, his tone odd, almost conversational.

"I… don't believe so."

"Are you dying? Is my father?"

"...no?"

"If nobody's dying, then why the hell are you holding my hand?"

Ah. The crucial question, as it were. "Because, well, because I have feelings for you."

There's another pause, and then Noctis -- gently, but firmly -- pulls his hand away. He sits up, and his expression is very… careful. "Ignis, no. You had a moment, that's all. We're not in Old Solheim, you don't have to marry me just because you touched my boob."

Ignis sits up too, and shakes his head. "It's not that. Noct, I like you, and I have done for a while, and I would like us to--"

"Okay, wait, hold up. No, no way. You don't get to do this to me, Specs." Noctis is scowling now. "You don't get to just hold my hand and decide we're dating."

"That's not what I--"

"Hell, you're like six months too late anyway." Noctis actually gets up, scrambling up onto his feet. He brushes himself down, glares down his nose at Ignis. "I can't believe you. I can't believe this. Shit. I used to want this so much, but that was before, before everything. Now? I don't, don't, augh."

It's like being stabbed in the gut, being told he's missed his chance. "You don't what?"

"You left, Ignis. You left me."

Well, that's not fair. Ignis gets to his feet too, indignant. "I had to go away, it was my duty--"

"I know, and fuck, I know it's stupid. And then you came back and then wanted to leave again, and that -- god, do you know how much that hurts? You wanted to just ditch me completely, wash your hands of me, go off back to the boyfriend you weren't even in love with."

It's like all the blood and heat drains out of Ignis. Oh. What a thing; and it's true, and awful. It's a miracle Noctis still wants him around at all, if that's what he's been thinking.

"You gave up on me," Noctis says, and now it's plaintive. "Like I didn't matter."

"Noct, I'm so sorry."

"Yeah?" Noctis lifts a hand, rubs the back of it against his eyes. "Dammit. You know that's the first time you've actually apologised for anything to do with Baranthus and the way you acted?"

Ignis searches his memory. Is that true? It can't be.

"I mean, you said you owed me an apology, and you were sorry about the cameras, and sorry about my timetables, but you've never come out and said, hey, I'm sorry, Noctis, I didn't believe you, I was an asshole."

Well then. "Noct? I treated you appallingly. I should have believed you. Worse than that, I was selfish enough to forget what a good man you actually are, because I wanted an excuse to leave."

Noctis stares at him, and that's worse than him yelling or crying.

"I was a fool, and I broke your trust. And I can't apologise enough to make up for that, but I can promise you this; I will never leave you like that again."

Noctis rubs his hands over his eyes again, and then turns away, shaking his head.

"I mean it," Ignis says. "I won't leave unless you tell me to leave. And I understand that you want nothing to do with any romance I might offer you. I'm sorry."

"Good."

Ignis looks around them; two pillows on the floor, the bags of equipment, the little contraption over the firepit. It won't take long to get everything back in the car. "If you'd like, we can go home."

"Yes. We're done here." Noctis heaves in a deep breath, and then turns. "You grab the stuff, I'll go get the car warmed up. Okay?"

"Certainly."

Ignis takes his time, on a hunch. And as Noctis drives them back towards Insomnia, Ignis is careful not to mention how red and puffy his eyes look.

--

Gladio gives him a very old, knowing look when Ignis confesses a brief sketch of what happened.

"It's not that he rebuffed me," Ignis adds, before Gladio can focus on the wrong thing, "it's that he's absolutely right. I was a terrible friend. And now I can scarcely credit I was so quick to give up on him."

"Iggy," Gladio says, gesturing with his can, "you were lovedrunk. You're not exactly the first guy out there to make stupid decisions because he's thinking with his dick."

"That's not an excuse."

"No, but it's a reason." Gladio shrugs. "Honestly, I think the kid needs to get over it."

Ignis stares at his own Ebony can. Gladio is always too impatient, Ignis thinks. Ignis wounded Noctis, and then compounded the wound by never apologising for inflicting it.

"Just give him a bit of time," Gladio adds, setting down his can. "Say you're sorry again, if it comes up. And ask him out properly, don't just jump him."

"Gladio, he turned me down."

"And what, you're too proud to risk him doing it again?"

It's not pride that's preventing Ignis, it's not wanting to make things worse between him and Noctis. "I don't want to pressure him into a relationship he doesn't want. See it from his perspective -- I try to turn tail and run when things go wrong."

That makes Gladio look thoughtful.

"I don't blame him for not wanting someone he can't rely on," Ignis says, and sighs. "No. I've missed my chance. I'll have to live with that."

Gladio actually leans across the table and puts a hand on Ignis's arm. "Iggy. Don't just give up on this. You're a fighter. You got this."

"Being a fighter includes knowing when the battle is lost."

"Not until you've got nothing left to give, right?"

Ignis hadn't meant quite such a literal comparison to be drawn. He frowns.

"Come on. You're not spent yet," Gladio says, pulling his hand back, settling into his seat again. "If I were you, there's only one tactic I'd pick at a time like this."

"And that is?"

Gladio grins, his teeth glinting dangerously. "Go all out."

Chapter Text

There's a note in Noctis's desk, when he gets back from lunch with Prompto up on the roof.

I'm sorry. ~∞

Noctis squints at the loops at the end. An infinity symbol. Or a sideways B? It's making him draw a blank on guesses at authorship, though the handwriting looks familiar.

He looks around the class, confused, and then one of the boys by the window pushes his glasses up his nose. The movement makes his lenses flash, a flicker of white, and Noctis suddenly clicks.

Oh crap. That's not an infinity sign, it's spectacles. Ignis.

Noctis is still not sure what to make of the whole 'suddenly we're on a date' stargazing trip. At first, with Ignis clumsily trying to make the trip about romance, having never shown a flicker of interest like that in Noctis before, Noctis had thought it had to be down to some kind of guilt. Which was stupid. So Noctis had said no, and then Ignis had said he meant it, and that had been so infuriating. How dare he, after everything? Didn't he know how confusing that was?

And then Ignis was apologising -- apologies Noctis had thought he'd never hear -- and apologising for everything so sweetly and sincerely that Noctis had just wanted to cry.

Noctis had cried, in the sanctuary of his car, because of the apologies and because god, Ignis had asked him out. Once upon a time, Noctis would have thought that there could be nothing better than having Ignis confess to him shyly under a sea of stars.

But now? No. Things are different. Noctis is different. Ignis is different. It wouldn't work.

The teacher hasn't arrived yet, so Noctis makes a beeline to the back of the class.

"Cassia," he says. "Did you see someone put something in my desk?"

She looks up at him, and then at the note in his hand. "No, but ooooh, hey. Can I see?"

"You're sure you didn't see? A tall guy, glasses, hair all--" and Noctis gestures upwards. "Handsome. In black."

He gets a shrug in return. Alright. Even if Ignis didn't come in and plant this himself, it has to be from him.

Cassia pulls the note from his grasp, and reads it over. "Oh."

"Yeah, it's… complicated."

Cassia hands him back the note. "You don't look pleased. What's the deal?"

How to explain? "Er. He asked me out, I turned him down."

"And now he's putting apologies in your desk. Guess he still wants to be friends?"

Friendship. Noctis's stomach twists uncomfortably. He doesn't even know if that's what you can call what they have, any more, not now it's all broken and patched back together. But it's a good thing to aim for.

--

Ignis isn't picking him up tonight, because Noctis has already planned to go down to the game arcade with Prompto and Naomi and Cassia. Prompto picks up on Noctis's twitchiness after a couple of rounds of Samurai Vengeance, because Noctis is never usually this awful when there's swords involved.

"What's gotten into you?"

"Ahh, just… distracted."

Naomi snorts. "Because of the love note from that big muscle guy today?"

Muscle guy? Then Gladio's involved in this. Which means there's a conspiracy to get him to forgive Ignis. Noctis turns, squints at her. "Huh. It's not from him really." He glances at Prompto. "It's from Ignis."

Prompto, as he should do, nearly drops his controller. "Ignis?"

"Yeah, he asked me out, sort of. I said no."

Prompto makes a 'wait' gesture with his hand, takes the controller out of Noctis's unresisting grasp, and slots them both back into the machine. "Okay," he says, ushering Noctis off the machine. "What the hell?"

"It's really complicated."

"It'd have to be, sheesh. Haven't you liked him forever?"

Noctis fidgets at his hair. "I… uh…"

"Come on dude, admit it. You're so into him it's not even funny."

There's a man near the entrance who has been calling for a 'Ventus', over and over, and it sounds familiar and then Noctis recognises the name.

He raises a hand with some reluctance. "That's me, probably."

The admission earns him custody of an embarrassingly large bouquet of flowers, red and white. Noctis takes them, knowing he's probably either bright red or bright white himself right now. Shit. Ignis is sending him flowers in public, that's… oh my god.

Cassia wriggles out the little card from within the stems. "I was a terrible friend, and you deserve better. I'm sorry," she recites from it. "And then like a little… I dunno, what is that?"

"Infinity symbol." Noctis sighs, taking it from her. "Or, spectacles."

Prompto makes a low, uncomfortable noise. "Dude."

"I… I gotta go home, talk to him," Noctis says. "This is ridiculous."

--

Ignis is not answering his phone, nor does he answer when Noctis bangs on his door. Noctis is sitting determinedly on the floor of the corridor, ready to wait this out, his back against Ignis's door, when his phone rings. "Sorry to spring this on you," Ignis says as soon as Noctis picks up, "but I've been asked to go to Lestallum. Chasing up a lead in the investigations."

"Huh."

"If you don't want me to go, I can ask someone else to do the chasing."

Noctis is surprised for a moment, and then it clicks. Of course. Ignis had said he wouldn't leave, without permission. "You can go."

"You're certain?"

"Yes." Noctis plunges onwards, determined. "And about today, with the note, and the flowers--"

"I meant every word. I don't expect your forgiveness, but you are owed my apologies."

Somehow, that knocks all the words out of Noctis's head. "Ah… uh. Never mind."

"I'll let you know when I'm on my way back."

"Okay."

When Noctis pokes his head into his fridge, he finds a container with another note taped to the top of it.

Noctis,

I'm truly sorry. I'll do everything I can to be a better person for you.

Ignis

The food in the fridge looks like something on rice in a container, which Noctis sulkily chucks into the microwave. He's rather more careful with the flowers. There's a vase he doesn't even remember having in the cupboard under his sink, and he spends a while looking up what you're supposed to do with cut flowers. He's been given flowers before at state events, but usually he doesn't keep those, and the ones Luna gave him for his not-birthday came in their own little pot of soil. It turns out he's supposed to trim down the stems of these, and use the little sachet that's tucked into the base of the bouquet in the water for them.

He stares at the flowers in their vase, afterwards, still only half-believing they exist. How dare Ignis embarrass him by sending flowers to the games arcade where everyone will see it, what the hell is he even thinking?

Okay, Noctis thinks, grudgingly. It's nice that he's apologising. It's just the way he's apologising that's ridiculous.

But Ignis has always been a bit ridiculous.

The dinner is good, but Noctis feels so unsettled that he can barely taste it.

--

In the morning, the doorbell rings, and for a brief moment Noctis thinks it might be Ignis.

It's not. What it is is a deliveryman with a bag, and in that bag is breakfast, hot and smelling like heaven.

Noctis pulls out the containers, one by one. This is amazing. There's no note, but it has to be Ignis's doing. Ignis can definitely give him apology gifts like this any time he likes, a Galahdian breakfast of steak and peppery sauces and the salty scrambled egg dish that you're supposed to pile on top. It's a decadent, extravagant meal, and Noctis is going to be finding out how the hell Ignis got anywhere to deliver such a thing.

His phone buzzes, while he's eating.

I've been delayed. We found magitek soldiers in Lestallum, but the threat is neutralised. I will be back tomorrow, I assure you.

Hm.

Right. Please stop apologising though?

If you insist.

It's obvious that Ignis has enough phone signal to send messages, but he doesn't answer his phone when Noctis tries calling. Noctis sighs, and steels himself for more surprises. What else will Ignis produce before the end of the day from his distant post?

What he tries to do is something Noctis intercepts, because Prompto is not a competent sneak.

"Geez, he's got you in on it too," Noctis says, in faux-disgust, plucking the note from Prompto's fingers. "What's this one?"

It's printed, not handwritten, this time.

I miss when we were so comfortable together that you used me as your pillow. ~∞

Noctis feels the blush creep up his neck. Damn. That's a bit… private, that he sometimes naps on Ignis. Not that he's done it in a long time. But still. At least this note came in an envelope. Maybe Prompto hasn't even read it. "You have gone so red."

"Yeah, well, it's embarrassing." Noctis shoves the note back in the envelope. "I need to talk to him, seriously. This is too much."

Prompto just grins at him, like he's in on some joke, and then the teacher comes in and Noctis has to slink back to his seat instead of shaking down Prompto for more information.

--

Noctis heads home after school. There are five reports stacked on his table; four of them slim, pre-edited, and then a larger one relating to one of his charitable causes.

There's a note tucked into the larger one, saying that it's not necessary for the Prince to read the whole document, but that all the information is enclosed should he wish to. There's a summary section at the end, from the looks of things, so Noctis will at least read that. It's a relief, this level of clarity on what information consumption is necessary, desirable, or optional, and it's something Noctis is seeing more and more, with little chatty opinionated notes tucked in from the report writers. It's one of the innovations Ignis said he was working on with the civil service, and it's making Noctis's life so much simpler that Noctis has requested that it be expanded to the reports his father gets. Oh, he knows he shouldn't always believe 'you don't need to read this' as an instruction; it's possible that someone unscrupulous could exploit that to hide things. But it's also not Noctis's job to fend off every cheat or liar in the Citadel personally.

Noctis decides to eat first. There's nothing tucked into his fridge tonight, but then, Ignis was expecting to be home already and it won't kill Noctis to subsist on Cup Noodles for one night.

He inspects the bouquet again as he eats. Red and white, pretty, almost romantic. What is it going to be like, to have Ignis come home after all these notes and gifts?

Noctis shakes his head, dismisses the thought, and is done with reading the reports within an hour, which he thinks is pretty damned good going.

Schoolwork is next up. Extra credit work, making up for the coursework that he'd flubbed before. Not too bad; Literature is mostly reading through example essays to see what kind of thing he needs to be able to write about. Mathematics is a bunch of exercises, which Noctis finds really boring but it might drill things in. He goes through them all, tedious repetition though it is, and by the end he's certain he could do quadratic equations in his sleep.

It's late when he sets that aside. But he's not really sleepy yet. He considers -- well, he'll get ready for bed, and then he can play Ninja Gaiden, and he can just stop playing when he's sleepy and go straight to bed.

It turns out there's another bouquet in his bedroom.

Roses, again, in a vase on his bedside table. This time, black ones, or, rather, purplish-black ones, a swarm of them, and then sprays of tiny whitish flowers tucked around the edge. It's a weird combination, until Noctis narrows his eyes suspiciously and it blurs just enough.

Huh.

He carries the vase out into the living room so he can put it on the table there, and then shifts the stems around in the vase -- whoever had put this here probably didn't know what it was supposed to look like -- until the effect is more obvious to him. Tiny white buds, blooming on a near-black background. A starscape of sorts, made of flowers.

There's a little card, too, but Noctis saves that until he's happy with his handiwork in arranging the blossoms.

I ask, knowing you may say no, but unable to give up without trying again.

May I take you on a date, tomorrow? ~∞

Despite the way his body reacts by shivering at seeing the words on the card, Noctis has been half-expecting this. It's inevitable. If Ignis has gotten it into his head that he likes Noctis, then he's not the type to just drop it and walk away. Noctis considers the idea, trying not to be petty about it. If nothing else, he'll get a nice meal and a chance to talk to Ignis properly. That would be good, just talking. It can't really hurt, can it?

He texts Ignis, ignoring how late it is. What, you gonna snatch me away after school?

I was thinking I'd collect you at 6 from your apartment. Dinner somewhere nice.

Noctis chews on his lower lip, thinking. OK. A date. 6pm.

I can hardly wait.

--

Gladio frowns, and tips his head sideways. "Not sure. I mean, it goes with your eyes, but otherwise, enh."

"I'm not sure either," volunteers Prompto. "I think I liked the other shirt more."

Noctis sighs, and shrugs off the suit jacket. It's gone half past five, and he's still not entirely sure what he should be wearing. Since Ignis had said that thing about suits and the top button undone being fit for anywhere, he's inclined to wear a variant of that. But Prompto and Gladio are being distinctly unhelpful about which shirt he should wear under the suit.

"I dunno why you're asking us anyway," Gladio says as Noctis unbuttons the blue shirt. "It's Ignis. He's seen you vomiting before."

"Not helpful."

Prompto is studying the flowers. "Dyed roses. Is this, like, because black is the royal colour?"

"No." Noctis pulls on the dark red shirt, his original choice and one he'd bought right after school earlier that day in a sudden panic of uncertainty over what to wear. "It's a private joke."

"Like the napping."

"Don't mention the napping."

Prompto snorts. "Too late. Does that mean you've already slept with him?"

"Oh my god, could you not."

Gladio holds out the suit jacket. "You gonna wear that like Iggy does, unbuttoned at the top?"

"That's the plan." Noctis pulls the jacket back on. "Alright, this one. Good?"

They both nod.

Noctis inspects himself in the mirror. He likes the colour combination, the dark red with the black, and if Gladio and Prompto both thinks it looks fine then it's probably fine. Dinner somewhere nice, so, hopefully this is smart enough.

Gladio pats Noctis on the back. "I'm still amazed this is actually happening."

"It's not a real date," Noctis says, warningly.

"Funny, you're having a fashion crisis like it's a real date."

"Shut up."

Gladio leans in, and leers. "You, uh, need any brotherly advice--"

"If you are going to say anything about giving me the talk, I will scream and then have you evicted from the building."

Prompto makes a choking noise, but Gladio just grins. "Nah. You'll figure it out, you're smart. Or Iggy is, anyway."

"I am one-hundred-percent sure he doesn't need the talk," Noctis says, and then heaves in a deep breath. He's nervous, like it's a real date, even though it's just Ignis and dinner and it probably won't mean anything. Damn. "Alright, you two had better clear out and--"

The doorbell buzzes.

"Or, uh. Hide?"

With Gladio and Prompto stuffed in Noctis's bedroom, Noctis opens the front door.

Ignis smiles at him. He's in black and silver, tight-fit and elegant. Noctis vaguely notes the clothing, notes that there's no necklace nestled in Ignis's collarbone this time, but mostly all he can think is about how Ignis has just made his chest feel full of butterflies without even trying.

It's not supposed to be a proper date. But with the way Ignis is looking at him… maybe it won't hurt to pretend it is, for a while.

"Are you ready to go?"

"Yeah, absolutely."

Ignis indicates towards the lifts. "Then our reservation awaits."

--

The restaurant is one of the big, fancy ones near the Citadel. Noctis has been here for a few functions -- there are big private rooms upstairs for that kind of thing -- but never just to eat dinner. The menu is long, and it swims a bit in front of his eyes.

Ignis points out things that Noctis might like, thankfully, and once they've made their orders, he looks Noctis up and down pointedly.

"That's a good colour on you," he says, with that smile again. "You really have become very handsome, Noct."

Oh, god. Compliments. Noctis has never been good at taking them at the best of times.

"And now you are assuming the colour of your shirt. Quite the chameleon."

"I… shut up, I'm trying to pretend I'm cool."

Ignis laughs.

"And you, uh." What can Noctis possibly say about Ignis in return, that isn't super obvious or just dumb. "Well, I'm getting all the envious looks for how hot my date is."

"That's not envy, Noct, they're admiring you."

Ahh. Noctis can feel himself getting pinker and pinker. "Let's just agree we're both super gorgeous, okay?"

"If you like."

"I'm not even sure what to say to you."

Ignis tips his head to one side, his eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "We could start with: are you just here to humour me, or are you willing to be romanced?"

Noctis is taken aback. "I… uh."

"I'll be blunt. I like you very much, Noctis. I've always been fond of you, but seeing you lately -- but you have no notion, I think, of how attractive you've become."

When Ignis looks away for a few seconds to pick up and take a sip of his water, Noctis realises he's been holding his breath. His heart feels like it's stopped beating.

"You're handsome, of course," Ignis says, and he's looking at his water glass instead of looking at Noctis. "But it's more than that. I like you, Noct. All of you. You're sweet, and brave, and clever. You're going to be a wonderful King some day, but you're already a wonderful man."

Oh.

"And when I touched you… I had already thought about asking you to be mine." Ignis makes this odd, half-chuckling sound. "And then I scuppered any chances I had."

Oh.

"So I'm here, hoping I somehow have one last chance that I haven't ruined by being thoughtless and careless."

Noctis realises he's lifted a hand to his own chest, clutching at where his heart is still oddly immobile. "Geez, Specs. You gonna hold back at all?"

"This is too important." Ignis's eyes meet his again. "I told you once that I'd guarded my heart when I was with Flavius. I don't think I could hope to guard mine against you."

There's suddenly a hard knot in Noctis's throat, paralysing his tongue and making him unable to move his eyes from Ignis's.

"And so if your presence here is because you are too kind to reject me twice, please warn me now."

Ignis's right hand is on the base of his glass, loosely curled. Noctis, struggling for words, reaches out and touches the back of Ignis's fingers. "I -- it's not -- ah. I like you, Ignis."

"With some reservations, I imagine."

"Well. Yeah."

Ignis's hand shifts, twists, so his fingers curl under the edge of Noctis's. "I said I wouldn't leave you again. As your Chamberlain, as your friend, I promised you that. And I will hold myself to that, no matter what. But if you'll have me, I promise it as, well. Whatever else we decide we are."

Noctis swallows, hard. "Okay."

Ignis's eyes are so sharp, so determined in their gaze. "You're certain?"

"I am." Noctis pulls back his hand, picks up his water, takes a sip. Now it feels like his heart is beating again, but now too fast, throbbing in his chest. "At least, certain I'm giving you a chance."

Ignis's mouth tugs upwards on one side, and then the waiter arrives with their starters.

The food is good, and Ignis talks about films, and art, and games, and Noctis gets to poke gentle fun at Ignis for how pretentious he is about these things.

"Is that some artsy one?" he asks, for the fifth time in a row when Ignis names a movie Noctis has only barely heard of.

"Of course it is."

"You really have to watch something in colour one of these days. Maybe even one with sound."

Ignis leans forward. "Is that an invitation? Because when we watch movies, Noct, you tend to fall asleep on my shoulder."

"Hm." Noctis pretends to think about that. "Maybe you'll have to keep me awake somehow."

It comes out flirtier than he meant it, and he can feel his neck heat up in a blush of embarrassment, but Ignis just gives him this slow, deliberate smile. "Interesting suggestion."

Hell. Brazen it out. Noctis lifts his chin. "I'm an interesting person."

"Yes," Ignis says, that smile tilting up at one side. "You definitely are."

And that's it, somehow. Everything after that feels like flirtation, with the way Ignis keeps letting his gaze drift down to Noctis's mouth, the way he keeps reacting to anything Noctis says with that slow, sly grin. Noctis doesn't think he's very good at flirting, but it doesn't matter, because it turns out that Ignis is really good at being flirted with.

By the end of the meal, Ignis's foot is nudging gently against Noctis's beneath the table, and their hands are on the table -- not holding each other, just, close enough that every so often their fingers twitch and brush each other, and each time it makes little zings of thrilling electricity go up Noctis's spine.

He likes Ignis. Miraculously, he's starting to believe that Ignis likes him too.

--

Ignis walks him all the way back to his door, and then he presses a kiss to the back of Noctis's hand in a smooth elegant bow that makes Noctis blush all over again.

"Goodnight, Noct," he says, as he unbows.

There's a pause, and all Noctis can think is, please, please if we're going to do this, then kiss me properly.

Ignis takes a deep breath, and leans in, and Noctis tips his head up and oh. Oh. Ignis is kissing him, their lips brushing together very lightly. It's shivery and tender, but it's far too gentle.

Noctis reaches out without looking, and pulls Ignis closer.

There. Ignis's mouth firm against his, opening, hot and yearning and making Noctis's insides just melt. It's perfect, sets all Noctis's nerves on fire with want, and then…

And then Ignis is pulling away, smiling, one hand still on the side of Noctis's face. "Goodnight, Noct," he repeats.

Noctis grabs for that hand. "No. No way." He fumbles behind him, at his doorhandle, which won't work properly.

Ignis's eyes are full of amusement. "I think it's locked."

Shit. "Don't go anywhere," Noctis warns, and turns, fishing his keys out of his pocket. With the door half-open, he reaches behind him, grabs Ignis's hand, and draws him forward.

The door closes itself behind Ignis, but Noctis is already pulling Ignis in, kissing him again, urgently, trying to convey how desperately he wants Ignis, how much he's wanted this for ages, and thank god, now Ignis is kissing him back just as keenly.

Afterwards, he remembers the kisses mostly in a series of dizzy, sensual flashes. Ignis's hands on his back, under his jacket, hot even through Noctis's shirt. Getting pressed up against the wall in his corridor, the solidity of the wall a brief shock, cutting through the haze of foggy arousal colouring everything. Noctis tipping his head back, as Ignis does amazing things to Noctis's neck -- who knew it would feel so good to be kissed there, lips snagging on his throat -- and then Ignis gasping Noctis's name as Noctis did the same thing back, nibbling at Ignis's ear and feeling Ignis's fingers tighten on his waist.

Pulling apart, just for a moment, and Noctis tugs Ignis's glasses off with shaking hands. Both of them stumbling towards the sofa in the dark, Noctis leading Ignis by the hand, dropping Ignis's glasses on the side table. Noctis pulling Ignis down with him, and the kisses going from hungry to slow and intense, Ignis nipping at Noctis's lips and then dipping his head down again to Noctis's neck.

Noctis, nervous but determined, letting his hands slide down, slide beneath, slide upwards again. Ignis's skin smooth and firm under his shirt, and then Ignis grabbing for Noctis's hands.

"Slow," he says, and then he smiles, and gently pulls away, sits up. "We should slow down, Noct."

"Why?"

"...it's only our first date." Ignis lifts Noctis's hands, presses kisses to each in turn. "We should pace ourselves."

And then he's getting up, pulling Noctis up with him, pulling Noctis in for one more slow, open press of mouth to mouth.

"I think I should leave," he says then, and his hand caresses the side of Noctis's face.

"Really?"

"I don't think I trust myself, else." Ignis smiles, and then drops his hands. "But I am very ready for another date, as soon as you'll permit."

Noctis frowns, but then Ignis dips into a bow, and beats what is -- in Noctis's memory, afterwards -- a very hasty retreat, barely casting a backwards glance as he collects his jacket from the arm of the sofa and his glasses from the table. He is framed in silhouette in the light of the corridor for just for a moment before the door closes behind him.

Noctis slumps sideways on the sofa afterward, confused and frustrated.

The whole evening had been wonderful. Once Noctis had let himself believe Ignis, had let the date be a real date, it had all just clicked into place. The words, the touches, all building up to an absolute certainty that Ignis is sincere, that he wants Noctis in a way that makes Noctis's stomach swoop just to think of it. And then, the kissing. Noctis isn't entirely new to kissing, but he's never been so swept away by it, never felt so much desire or felt so desired in return. He hadn't wanted it to end.

But well. If Ignis wanted them to go slowly, then, okay. Noctis could do that. They should take their time. They've both got a lot of baggage to deal with, and it would be stupid to just rush into everything.

Probably.

Noctis's hand slides downwards, to where he's feeling most frustrated. At least he can imagine what would have happened if Ignis hadn't decided to put the brakes on.

Yeah. It would have been absolutely magnificent.

Chapter Text

When Ignis lets himself out of Noctis's apartment, dishevelled and aching with desire, it takes an awful lot of his self-control to force his legs to carry him back to his own apartment.

He does so, and sinks down onto his own sofa.

Oh, Noct.

Ignis had been entirely sincere in his confession to Noctis over their dinner. In fact, Ignis is beginning to wonder if he'd been blind, before, not to see what a wonder Noctis is. Or if Baranthus's interference, for all the ill it had done, had also somehow been the catalyst for Noctis to blossom into a finer version of himself.

No. Whatever the cause, Ignis refuses to allow any credit to fall on that man for Noctis's accomplishments.

Noctis is many things, things he has become all by himself. Kind. Clever. Idealistic, but with enough cynicism to temper that. Focused. Determined. Forgiving, but not foolish.

And fiercer and more urgent in passion than Ignis had allowed himself to dream.

Ignis suspects that Noctis would have allowed their evening to escalate much further, would have permitted Ignis anything with enough sweet words and caresses. It's a heady thought, and Ignis has to remind himself firmly of several cogent points.

Firstly, that Noctis is still only sixteen. Secondly, that Noctis is almost certainly an innocent. Thirdly, that tipping the Crown Prince of Lucis into bed within their first few dates is liable to raise some eyebrows if anyone ever finds out.

Ignis is in a position of trust here, not as Noctis's advisor but simply as the older, the more experienced of them both. And he's certain that it would be a good idea to take things slowly, to let them work their way up to high passion over time.

It's just that, sitting here, lips still tingling from Noctis's kisses, he can't quite think of a reason why.

--

Ignis's phone chirps out the little complex trill he has programmed in for Noctis, and he picks it up. It's 7am on a Saturday morning. Why is Noctis calling him?

"Ignis," Noctis says, his voice sleep-slurred in a way that makes Ignis feel suddenly warmly fond of his morning-averse Prince. "You're my advisor. Advise me?"

"Of course."

"I went on a date with this incredible guy."

Ignis can feel the smile spreading across his face.

"But then we were making out, and it was awesome, but suddenly he just up and left. So, did I screw up?"

Oh, Noctis. "I… ah, I sincerely think you did nothing of the sort."

"Okay. Good. Just checking." Noctis yawns. "Second advisory question. How soon after a first date is it okay to ask for a second?"

"I imagine," Ignis says, slowly, "that if the other party is willing, as soon as you like."

"Yeah? Cool. I'll take that into consideration."

And then Noctis hangs up, abruptly.

Ignis waits, curious, and then his phone trills again.

"Ignis?"

"Yes?"

"Second date. Come to my place? Like, right now?"

"On my way."

Noctis opens the door before Ignis can even knock. He's still in his pyjamas, hair unkempt, pillow marks on his cheek. It's… well, once, Ignis would have thought it cute. Now he's very aware that this means Noctis has literally just tumbled out of bed, and putting Noctis and 'bed' in the same mental bracket makes him feel rather hot under the collar.

"C'mere," Noctis says, tugging Ignis inside by the shirt, and then before the door even clicks closed he's threading his hands up into Ignis's hair, drawing Ignis down into a kiss.

Noctis's mouth is so overpoweringly minty-fresh that he must just have cleaned his teeth, but that's something Ignis quickly discovers he can ignore. Especially since Noctis sleeps in his pyjama pants and a soft, long-sleeved t-shirt that is so thin that Ignis can feel the shape and warmth of Noctis's body through it.

When Noctis pulls away, he looks as pink-cheeked as Ignis feels. "So," he says, and one hand is clutching at Ignis's shirt again, "I have a bunch of appointments later today. But I figured we could fit in a date before."

"Giving up sleep for me? I'm honoured."

"You should be."

"What did you have planned?"

"Well," Noctis says, and he grins a smile that is distinctly non-innocent, "I'm not sure you ever got properly shown around this place."

...ah. Ignis feels a shiver of anticipation go through him, warming him even further. "Did I not?"

"No." Noctis's other hand curls into Ignis's shirt as well, below the first. "Come check out my bedroom."

It's tempting, so tempting that Ignis nearly forgets himself. But-- "you have weapons training in three hours, Noct."

"Yeah, so?"

And if he takes Noctis to bed and things happen as they likely will, then he'll have to send Noctis off, freshly mussed and slack-limbed, to spar with Gladio. "I don't want to have to rush things," he says, instead, and brushes some Noctis's fringe out of his eyes. "I would be keeping one eye on the clock, were you to give me that tour right now."

Noctis's eyes narrow. "Huh."

"But tonight--"

"Pushing for a third date already, huh?" But Noctis's mouth is tugging up at the side, pleased. "And here I am without any other ideas for the second one."

"I could cook--"

"No. I mean, I'd like that, but this was me asking you on a date. I should do the thing."

Ignis considers that, with Noctis's hands flattened against his chest. "You told me I should try watching a movie in colour, last night. Why don't you pick one out?"

"Hmm, but I might fall asleep on you."

"An added bonus. Bring a blanket, just in case."

Noctis grins up at him, and then gestures towards the living room. "Okay. I think I even have breakfast here."

The breakfast Noctis sets in front of Ignis on the coffee table is a hideous travesty that Noctis announces as 'toaster strudel', some kind of sugar-coated pastry that is approximately the temperature of molten lava on the inside when Ignis ventures a bite.

"Don't burn your tongue," Noctis says, a tad too late, and then sets down two cups of coffee. "Also I am totally going to pick a movie you would never go watch otherwise, just to warn you."

"I consider myself duly warned."

Noctis snags his blanket from the nearby chair, and then tips his head at Ignis. "Shuffle up a bit?"

Ignis does, shifting towards the arm of the chair, and Noctis -- with a bit of nudging and arranging of Ignis's arm -- curls himself up lengthways on the sofa, head propped rather innocently on Ignis's thigh in a way that probably shouldn't be making nearby parts of Ignis jump to attention. Ignis considers interposing a cushion, but he suspects Noctis would complain. Oh well.

"Okay." Noctis pokes at his remote controls for a short while, fetching up some movie that seems from the cover to involve lots of swords and shirtless men. Ignis can think of worse combinations. And it is nice, being like this in a gentle and not-too-amorous fashion, Noctis's head pillowed on his lap. Ignis, after a brief internal argument, lets one hand rest on Noctis's shoulder, and is rewarded by Noctis's shoulder nudging into his leg in what feels like encouragement.

It takes about half an hour before Ignis realises that Noctis really has fallen asleep, despite the number of attractively unshirted men onscreen, leaving his coffee and pastry almost untouched. His face has gone slack with slumber, and he has one hand curled up near his face, the other clutching at the blanket. Ignis fights back an urge to kiss this peaceful, contented-looking Noctis on the cheek -- it would be far more parental a gesture than he wants to get into the habit of, now, and it might wake Noctis up besides. Instead, with a deliberate effort, he returns his attention to the film.

His leg goes numb, slowly.

When Noctis wakes up towards the end of the film, it is all at once and in a startled blur of motion, half-sitting up and eyes wide.

"Good morning," Ignis says, quietly.

"Oh."

"Your coffee's gone cold."

Noctis blinks blearily at Ignis, and then lowers himself back onto Ignis's leg. "I can make another. How much did I miss?"

"Forty minutes or so." Ignis gestures at the screen. "This is all epilogue now."

"Damn." Noctis rolls onto his back, looking up at Ignis. "But you're a good pillow."

"Apparently so, yes."

"I mean," and Noctis slides a hand up, beneath Ignis's thigh, and it's startlingly intimate to feel Noctis's hand there, "a bit bony. But good enough."

"Glad to know I meet your standards for mediocrity," Ignis says, and then because Noctis's hand is still curled under his thigh and it seems only fair, he slides his fingers into Noctis's hair in a caress.

Noctis smiles up at him, pleased.

"Especially since you've no doubt drooled all over my very expensive trousers," Ignis continues, just to see Noctis pull a 'how dare you' face in response.

Noctis obliges him, and then his eyes go distant. "I've got training soon."

"That you have."

"Ugh. Okay."

They kiss again, in a way that is brief mostly because Ignis does his utmost to stop Noctis from climbing into his lap to continue it, and while Noctis is getting properly dressed Ignis brews some fresh coffee. His phone gives out Gladio's trill while he's pouring out.

"Yes?"

A chuckle. "How'd the date go?"

"Splendidly." Ignis hadn't told Gladio about the date, specifically, but gossip travels fast and perhaps someone saw them dining together. "At least, I'm still just as smitten."

"Glad to hear it. Noct gonna make it to training?"

"I would assume he will be there as usual," Ignis says, and then he feels the phone being plucked from his grasp.

"Gladio," Noctis says, with a heavy sigh, "we didn't even get to second base, alright? Now butt out, and I'll see you in the salle."

He hangs up, puts the phone back into Ignis's unresisting hand, and picks up one of the mugs of coffee. He flashes Ignis a grin that is altogether too pleased with himself, and leans back against the kitchen counter. The two vases of flowers Ignis sent flank him very prettily, from here.

"That was rather more candid than I would have been," Ignis says.

"Shut him up, though."

Ignis inclines his head in acknowledgement.

"Anyway, I'd have said the same thing even if, well. You know." Noctis smirks into his coffee. "None of their business, right?"

"Indeed." Ignis relaxes; good, Noctis isn't going to be explicitly indiscreet over everything they do. "You told Gladio?"

"Yeah, and Prompto. That's it, though. Nobody else knows about us."

Time to admit his part. "Actually, I sought permission from Cor and your father some time ago."

Noctis's eyes go very round, and then he snorts. "Of course you did."

"I had to, Noct."

"Yeah, I guess… what the hell did they say, though?"

"Cor was disapproving, but your father overrode him." Ignis reaches out, touches the side of Noctis's face, aiming for soothing. "And your father told me it wasn't really his decision anyway."

"Good."

Noctis is pouting, all the same, so Ignis leans across and kisses him. Noctis immediately puts down his coffee -- Ignis hears the cup clink as it hits the counter -- and leans up into the kiss so immediately that it nearly knocks the breath out of Ignis at how keen Noctis is.

"Okay," Noctis says, eventually, pulling away. "I should… uh, Gladio, and, um."

"This evening," Ignis says, and forces himself to release Noctis's shirt, "another date?"

"Mm, I suppose so."

Ignis thinks. Noctis's day is busy until the evening, and he has a lunch scheduled in after training with Gladio, but there's no meals in the afternoon. "I'll make dinner," he says. "My apartment. Dress up for me."

"Never gonna turn down your cooking," Noctis says, and then glances at the clock on Ignis's wall. "Aaaand I'm nearly late. Okay. One more kiss?"

Ignis dips his head, and makes Noctis actually late.

--

Ignis's apartment isn't the most romantic location, but he does what he can in the scant free time he has before Noctis finishes his meetings. He shifts the dining table up closer to the windows, puts the seats so they're across a corner from one another, throws back the curtains for the view, unearths some candles in the closet.

Dinner isn't going to be all that complicated; Ignis has found a Duscaen recipe that adds a dark sugary sauce to fish and rice, and for Noctis's sweet tooth it seems an ideal meal. For dessert, there's ice cream and fresh berries. Light enough to not make them over-full, that's the goal.

Ignis dresses, picking out a dark blue shirt with subtle patterning to go under the dark grey suit. After a moment of inspecting himself in the mirror, he decides he'll put on the waistcoat for this suit. And the silver-threaded black tie he's never had reason to actually wear. More formality, for his prince.

Noctis is late. He arrives breathless, forty minutes after he was supposed to be there, in one of the pinstriped suits he usually wears to attend charitable foundation meetings. Since the last meeting he was at was one of those, it means he's had no time to get changed.

"Sorry," he says, clearly agitated. "Really, really sorry. Wow, you look so good, and dinner's probably ruined but--"

"Shh," Ignis says. "I haven't even started dinner. It's fine."

"I, ah, shit, I was gonna get changed, and," Noctis gestures to himself, still on the threshold of Ignis's apartment. "Just, no time."

"You look absolutely fine," Ignis says, "but if you want, I am happy to postpone a little longer."

Noctis looks ridiculously grateful. "Yeah?"

"Go on." Ignis, feeling daring, leans forward, presses a kiss to Noctis's cheek, right there in the corridor where anyone might see. "I'll wait."

Noctis takes another three-quarters of an hour or so, but when he knocks at Ignis's door a second time he's visibly calmer and happier. Ignis is fairly sure he's showered, though his hair looks dry and styled with careful attention. He's in another plain black suit, this one with a subtly textured lapel that makes Ignis itch to stroke it, and he's wearing a black shirt tied with a silky cravat that likewise looks like it would feel good to touch. Citadel formal tailoring, very obviously, and Ignis feels rather honoured that he's getting the benefit of an outfit he's never seen Noctis wear anywhere before.

Once Noctis is inside Ignis's apartment, Ignis gives into the urge to touch, letting his hands splay out across the silk and the nap of the lapels, as Noctis tips his head up in ready anticipation of being kissed.

"I didn't think you could look more handsome," Ignis says, instead of kissing him, "and yet, here you are."

Noctis looks embarrassed for a second, and then he lifts a hand and tugs Ignis in just a little by his tie. "And look at you," he says. "Like this is a state event or something."

"At a state event, I wouldn't do this," Ignis says, and Noctis smiles into the kiss that follows.

Ignis leads Noctis into the main room, ushers him to a seat, and gestures towards the kitchen. "I'll start cooking, if you don't mind."

Noctis sits, grins in amusement that Ignis puts on an apron to cook -- which Ignis ignores, because he has no intention of getting oil on his suit -- and then he pulls out his phone and begins taking a photo of the candelabra that Ignis managed to dig out of his closet.

It takes a matter of minutes to ready their dinner, with Ignis's prior preparations, and then he dims the lights before setting a meal fit for at least minor royalty in front of Noctis.

"Wow, smells amazing," Noctis says, but he waits until Ignis is seated before he picks up his fork. "This is so romantic," he adds, gesturing around them. "Did you move stuff around?"

"I did, so the view would be nicer."

"You're kind of crazy, you know that?"

"I think it was worth the effort," Ignis says. "And I think you'll like this."

Noctis takes a big bite, obediently, and then makes a delighted noise. "Oh my god."

"Good?"

"Mmhmm." Noctis takes another forkful, and holds it out toward Ignis. "Try it, come on."

Ignis leans in, takes the proffered food. The sauce is rich, salty and sweet at the same time, and is probably more to Noctis's taste than to Ignis's, but being fed by Noctis is an entirely novel experience that makes the hair on the back of his neck prickle. "Yes," he says, swallowing. "I think that's a success."

Noctis smiles, and slides back into his seat before digging his fork in again. "So, again: sorry I was late. Dad grabbed me and wanted to talk."

"That's fine."

"No, it's not, I should have texted at least, but I just--"

"Noct. Your father's schedule is even more packed than yours. If you had a chance to spend time with him, I don't mind."

Noctis pulls an expression Ignis has learned to interpret as 'yeah, but'.

"Besides," Ignis says, "I've managed to have three dates with you in a very short span of time. I'm claiming quite a lot of your time myself."

"I guess." Noctis pokes at the food. "Dad asked if we were a thing, and then said to remind you that you need to, um, compartmentalise. Whatever that means."

"He means that I need to remember when to be your Chamberlain and when to be your boyfriend."

"Oh."

Ignis looks down at his plate. He'd rather hoped he'd be granted somewhat of a grace period, be allowed to feel his way out to a balance of the two over a few weeks. But if King Regis is conveying that reminder already, then perhaps there'll be less of a tolerance for imbalance than Ignis hoped.

Which is as it should be, he thinks, sternly correcting himself. No tolerance for failure to execute his duties, just because he's dating Noctis.

"But you can be my boyfriend right now, right?"

Ignis collects himself. "Yes. But when I'm Chamberlain, you need to--"

"To act like you're my advisor, I know, I know." Noctis's knee knocks into his under the table. "Maybe we need to get you a hat, or something, so I know which Ignis is which."

It's a notion, some sort of token that--

"I'm kidding, Specs. Sheesh." Noctis leans across the corner of the table and, instead of kissing him as Ignis expects, boops his nose into Ignis's. "I'll know. Stop worrying."

"Very well." Ignis holds out his hand, and Noctis seizes it. "Then, what else did your father say?"

Ignis eats left-handed as Noctis recites back the conversation in its entirety; unremarkable observations on the refugee project expansion, followed by a discussion of Noctis's schooling -- back on an upwards trajectory, thankfully -- and then some minor Citadel gossip. Noctis takes a few pauses, to appreciatively eat more of the food and to nudge Ignis's knee again, and by the time both their plates are empty Ignis has managed to put most of his work concerns firmly at the back of his mind. They seem trivial, in contrast to Noctis's fond expression and his hand on Ignis's.

He steals a kiss before he whisks the plates off to the kitchen, and the little pleased whine Noctis makes at seeing the ice cream yanks Ignis's mind fully into the present. That's a noise he wants to evoke as often as he can, he thinks.

Noctis insists on feeding Ignis a few spoonfuls of the ice-cream, and Ignis realises very quickly that Noctis wants him to reciprocate. Doing so allows him to watch the way Noctis's lips close around the spoon, how Noctis then licks his lips, actions that make Ignis's skin feel sensitive even without being touched. Within a few more exchanges, the spoon is replaced by Noctis's cold mouth against his own, sweet ice-tinged kisses that quickly result in the dessert being forgotten entirely.

The sofa is near enough for Ignis to pull Noctis over that way when things seem to necessitate it. Noctis straddles his lap, undoes Ignis's tie as they kiss, removes Ignis's jacket with ease, gets Ignis's top shirt button open and drops his mouth to softly press his lips onto Ignis's neck.

"Specs," he murmurs, his voice thick with desire in a way that Noctis can probably feel Ignis respond to. "How slow do we have to go?"

"I--"

"Because," and then Noctis nips at his neck, play-biting. "Because I'll go slow if it's because you want to. But not if it's because you think I'm not ready."

Ignis tries to think rationally, but Noctis is squirming in a very pleasing way on his lap, his teeth just enough in evidence on Ignis's neck to send little shivers through him. If Noctis is this sure, what's the harm in letting them both have what they want?

"So tell me if I should stop," Noctis murmurs, and his hand slips down to the first button of Ignis's waistcoat.

Ignis permits, and keeps permitting as Noctis works his way down the buttons, letting Noctis slide the waistcoat down his arms and off entirely. Noctis brings his mouth back to Ignis's, as Ignis unravels the cravat, slowly, so he can fully enjoy the texture of the silk as he does so.

As it flutters to the floor, he hesitates, his hands beneath Noctis's jacket.

"Don't stop."

"I'm not," Ignis says, and he lifts a hand to stroke Noctis's mouth. "Would you like to come to bed with me?"

Noctis scrambles off his lap, and pulls Ignis to his feet, and then kisses him urgently in a way that definitely communicates yes.

Undressing Noctis is nothing like undressing Flavius for the first time had been. Flavius had been slow, lingering touches, languid and drawn-out. Noctis is pure urgency. Ignis's glasses are cast aside carelessly. Noctis only half-unbuttons Ignis's shirt before his hands are up inside it, pulls Ignis on top of him in the bed, won't stop kissing Ignis for longer than it takes to snatch another lungful of air. Ignis tries to slow the pace a little; from the way Noctis is grinding up into him, he won't last to do the occasion justice at this rate.

Change of tactics, he thinks, and goes for Noctis's belt, sliding one hand between them.

Noctis makes a startled noise, and brings his knee up, sliding it between Ignis's thighs until it -- gently -- presses up against Ignis's groin.

"Okay?" Ignis asks, drawing back enough to see Noctis's face.

Noctis nods. His eyes are wide and startled and hopeful all at the same time.

It doesn't take long, with Noctis's co-operation, to get him most of the way naked, starting with his trousers. Ignis kisses his way down Noctis's bare legs and strips him of his socks, flashing a smile up towards Noctis's uncertain expression. Once Noctis is down to just his boxers, the outline of his erection and the dampness at the tip both very evident, Ignis sheds his own shirt, slides back up the bed and lets Noctis pull him into a kiss, this one very sweet and unsure.

"What should I--"

Ignis shakes his head. "Let me, please?"

"Okay."

Ignis lets his hand drift, cupping Noctis through his shorts. Noctis makes a faint, pleased noise, and bows his head until it's resting in the crook of Ignis's neck. Ignis thinks, for a moment; choices to be made. Please Noctis with his hand alone? That would allow Ignis to watching Noctis's face easily, to fully appreciate the ebb and flow of his pleasure. Use his mouth? Ignis likes doing that, knows it would unravel Noctis very easily.

Yes.

He cups Noctis's jaw, forces Noctis's face upwards so he can kiss him again, then pushes himself down the bed and positions himself where his intent will be obvious to Noctis.

"Oh," Noctis says, softly. "Oh, yes."

Even through the material of Noctis's boxers, Ignis can taste the musky taste of arousal as he mouths Noctis's erection. Doing so reduces Noctis to gasps and little whimpers of pleasure, wordless but wonderful, and Ignis smiles slyly upwards.

Bared to his view, Noctis curls a little, shy in his nudity and still thinner than Ignis would really like. Ignis ignores both facts in favour of tasting Noctis properly, a long slide of his tongue along the length of him. Noctis whines, and Ignis is aware of Noctis's hands twisting in the bedsheets. Good; better there than in Ignis's hair. Ignis repeats the slide, and then gets himself settled in to make this as good as he can for Noctis. One hand curled around the base; the other further down, cupping Noctis's testicles. That makes Noctis shudder in an unexpectedly responsive way. Ignis notes the reaction for another time, goes back to long lazy licks, listening and glancing upwards for reactions.

Noctis likes it slow, Ignis thinks, likes being held tightly at the base, loves it when Ignis takes him into his mouth properly, the deeper the better. Ignis has no talent for ignoring his gag reflex, so he contents himself with another mental note to explore this further in the future, and does as much he can right now with hand and mouth combined.

When Noctis comes, it is, satisfyingly, with Ignis's name escaping him at the point of climax.

He wipes his lips with the back of his hand as he swallows, smiles at Noctis as he sits up, ignores his own aching erection and admires his handiwork: Noctis stretched out beautifully before him, flushed pink at neck and cheek, eyes half-closed with pleasure, lips swollen and an expression of delighted satiation on his face.

"C'mere," Noctis says, in a gloriously muzzy voice, and he only seems to flinch for a moment at his own taste in Ignis's mouth. After a languid kiss, he pushes Ignis away again a little. "Mmm. 'Kay. Gimme a sec. No bones left."

Ignis lowers himself down, so he's lying along Noctis's side. Noctis turns a little, drapes an arm across Ignis's chest. Ignis arranges himself; Noctis lifts his head, lets Ignis slides his arm beneath, turns a little more.

"Y'know," Noctis says, nestling his head onto Ignis's shoulder, "I knew you'd be amazing. I just didn't know how amazing."

"Flatterer," says Ignis, but there's pride swelling in his chest. "And you were wonderful too."

"Yeah, wonderfully just lying there moaning your name, huh."

"And what about that do you imagine I would find anything but delightful?"

Noctis laughs, and it turns into a yawn.

Ignis lets his hand come up, to comb through Noctis's hair at the back. "You can nap, if you want."

"Huh?" Noctis lifts his head and glances down, between them, as does Ignis; Ignis's erection has leaked enough to paint a visible damp spot onto his trousers. "But you're--"

"You can make it up to me later." Ignis presses a kiss to Noctis's forehead. "I'll show you how I like it. I promise."

He gets a very dubious look in response.

"I promise," he repeats, because Noctis is liable to say something about fairness any moment now. "I rather enjoy the anticipation. When you wake, if I'm asleep, you have my permission to wake me up."

"Hm. If you're sure--" and Noctis yawns again. "I mean, I love you, but sleep is sleep, Specs."

"She's a demanding mistress, yes," Ignis says, his heart beating with unaccustomed vigour in response to the casualness of Noctis's declaration. "But I am not."

"'Kay." Noctis wrinkles his nose, and points half-heartedly to the wall opposite the bed. "Oh. You've still got that?"

Ignis follows the gesture. Oh. "Of course. You painted it for me. Did you think I'd discard it?"

"Yeah, I did." Noctis curls closer, rubs at his face sleepily. "But not gonna argue right now. Glad you kept it. Don't let me sleep too long, okay?"

Ignis looks over at the painting, confused. Why would Noctis think he wouldn't treasure it?

He turns the thought over, as Noctis falls into slumber, but with a warm body pressed into his and a dimly-lit room, it isn't long until sleep claims him too.

Chapter Text

Noctis wakes up, to the smell of sweetness in the air.

He stretches and orients himself. He's naked, in Ignis's bed, and Ignis isn't in bed. It's too early on Saturday morning for Noctis's taste, he discovers by checking his phone. Ignis's dressing gown is at the bottom of the bed, so Noctis shrugs it on and goes to investigate.

The smell turns out to be pancakes, when Noctis wraps his arms around Ignis's apron-clad waist and leans past him to see.

"Morning," Ignis says, lifting his arm and then bending awkwardly to kiss Noctis beneath it. "You have a few hours until weapons training. You could have slept in longer."

"But there's pancakes now," Noctis says, grinning.

"Well, yes." Ignis tips the current one out onto a plate, gently. "There's this one, certainly."

"You were gonna eat it without me," Noctis continues, accusingly.

"Merely testing my efforts," Ignis says with a smile, before he sets down the spatula and turns.

Morning kisses are something Noctis has learned to appreciate in the past few weeks. Ignis is never not affectionate, but there's something that Noctis finds especially precious about the kisses he gets in the morning before Ignis converts himself back into his more distant Chamberlain mode. Besides, Ignis in just his pyjama pants and an apron is a great combination of silly and sexy, something that Noctis doesn't think he's ever going to get sick of seeing.

"And are they good?" Noctis asks, meaning the pancakes, when Ignis lets go.

"Why don't you help me decide?"

Drizzled in honey, the pancake tastes pretty good to Noctis, but then any food offered to him on a fork by a smiling Ignis tends to be pretty good. Noctis grins, makes a thumbs-up gesture, and Ignis starts pouring out more batter. Usually, Noctis would stay right where he was, arms around Ignis, trying to steal more kisses and pancakes for as long as he can. Today, though, he retreats with his plate back to Ignis's dining table. He can admire Ignis's back from a distance for once. If he interferes too much, Ignis might burn the pancakes, and that will make him a bit grumpy. Noctis wants Ignis to be having a more or less perfect day, today, and that means no burnt breakfast.

The reason is that Noctis's father wants to have lunch with them both, as a consequence of Noctis officially telling him that they're a thing. His father was quite clear on 'bring Ignis as your boyfriend', too. Noctis feels distinctly weird about the whole thing. Ignis seems like he's quite calm about the prospect, but Noctis is about eighty percent sure that's just Ignis putting on a brave face.

And afterwards, Noctis has a plan for the evening. He's got it all set up, too. He just needs a way to bring it up -- oh. Oh. Of course. He knows just the thing.

When he gets back, Ignis is setting down a small stack of fluffy pancakes on the table. He raises an eyebrow at what Noctis is carrying.

"So, this," Noctis says, putting the painting on the table. "This painting I did isn't great."

Ignis immediately scowls. "Noct."

"Nah, look at it," Noctis says. "I messed up the colour wash here so it's not a smooth transition, and the stars are way too heavily done so they're bumpy, and the paint's flaking off on the top of them a bit, and honestly the composition--"

Ignis, to Noctis's surprise, puts a hand over the top of the painting, splayed out protectively. "Noct. I love this painting. Don't malign it so."

Huh. That's a stronger reaction than Noctis expected. "I just mean, I could do a better one."

"Perhaps you could." Ignis's fingers are moving, like he's stroking it. "But I don't want a replacement."

"Okay." Noctis rubs at the back of his neck, a bit confused. It's just a painting, and one Noctis had figured Ignis had only bothered to put up on his wall because they'd started dating. He'd been surprised Ignis had even kept it -- a darkly cynical part of him had assumed Ignis had thrown away all the stuff that reminded him of Noctis or home, back when he'd wanted to leave Insomnia and return to Altissia. "But… I still want to paint you a better one."

Ignis nods, his hand still touching the painting. "As long as I can keep this."

"Then can we go out tonight? So I can get some inspiration?"

"An expedition, you mean." Ignis picks up the painting, by the frame, very carefully. "It's rather short notice to arrange something."

Noctis grins. "I've already got a pass for the gate, and there's stuff in the car. It's all ready."

"How convenient." Ignis smiles at him, and then leans across the corner of the table and kisses him gently. "Very well. Tonight, then."

--

It's only when they're outside his father's suite and Ignis ducks back to check himself in a mirror that Noctis actually clicks why Ignis took so long to get dressed this morning. Oh.

Ignis is fussing with his shirt collar -- it's a nice shirt, with little metal corners on the collar points that match the silver buttons -- and Noctis has a feeling Ignis has suddenly decided he isn't dressed right for this. He steps in front of Ignis, pulls Ignis's hands onto his shoulders, smiles up at him.

"Noct," Ignis says as if he's annoyed at Noctis for getting in the way of his preening, and geez, Noctis can see how tense he is by the way his forehead creases above the rim of his glasses.

"You look fine," Noctis says. "Hot, actually. Dad's gonna tell me I'm punching above my weight, with you looking like this."

"Shush," Ignis says, but he dips his head enough for Noctis to kiss him on the cheek.

Good enough, if he's letting Noctis touch him affectionately inside the Citadel. "Come on."

What Ignis is probably too tense to notice, Noctis thinks a few minutes later as Ignis 'Your Majesty's his way through their hellos, is that Noctis's dad has probably spent just as long worrying about his clothes as Ignis has. Noctis's dad is as dressed-down as he gets, a plain black suit with his knee brace over the top, none of the normal paraphernalia of state. Not even a cravat, just a little bolo tie holding his collar tight.

King Regis, in casual clothes for meeting his son's boyfriend. Noctis stifles a grin.

Dinner is also about as casual as dinner in his dad's suite ever is. They sit at the dining table, bunched up around one end, and his father's personal staff bring in plates of pasta and sauce, and then they go away and close the doors behind them.

"Well," Noctis's dad says, picking up his fork. "Let's eat before it gets cold."

"On it," Noctis says, and nudges Ignis's knee under the table because Ignis looks like he's going stiff with nerves. "It smells great."

"Yes," Ignis says. "My compliments to the chef."

The pasta is only so-so. Noctis does his best, but the vegetables are too obvious for him to avoid chewing them, and so each bite is full of texture. Ugh. His father's going to think he's still a child who won't eat his food properly, at this rate, but Noctis can't eat this stuff.

"Some things don't change, I see," his father says, a little later when he sees the pathetic pile of remaining food on Noctis's plate. "Not hungry?"

"I… ah, not really," Noctis says, grateful for the excuse. "I think I filled up too much on breakfast."

To Noctis's surprise, Ignis's hand brushes against his knee, and then lands. It's gentle, reassuring rather than sexy, and Noctis manages to hide his little jump of surprise at the contact. "I did make rather a lot," Ignis says, as if agreeing with him. Bless him for letting Noctis off the hook.

"Hm." Noctis's dad smiles. "You cook for my son?"

"Since ages ago," Noctis says. "But more now, I guess. Ignis is a great cook."

"You should return the favour sometime, son."

Ignis makes an amused sound. "Noctis has cooked for me, your Majesty. But my cooking ruins fewer pans."

"Hey!"

"And I like cooking for Noctis. He's an appreciative audience, your Majesty."

"Ignis, please use 'sir', in here."

"Yes, sir."

"Unless you'd rather call me 'dad'?"

Oh, god. Poor Ignis. Noctis decides it's time to butt in. "Dad, be nice. I like him, don't scare him off."

His father gives him a speculative look. "I'm fairly certain that's my duty as a father, Noctis."

"Yeah, well, knock it off." Noctis drops his hand below the table, takes Ignis's hand, squeezes it. "You know he's awesome, and he got your permission, so don't pretend you have to sound him out for being good enough for me."

His father laughs, an actual guffaw of laughter. "And I see I don't have to doubt the depths of your feelings for him, either. My apologies, Ignis."

"Ah… that's quite alright, sir."

"All the same, I'm not certain what is permissible for me to say in my son's eyes."

Ignis actually smiles. "Noctis has many opinions on what we should discuss, I'm certain, sir."

"Wait, don't you two gang up on me. You both like me, remember."

"Albeit with fond exasperation at times," Ignis says.

"Ah yes. The fussy eating, the constant napping," his father says, ticking them off on his fingers. "Mono-focusing to the point of ignoring everything else, habits of messiness around your rooms--"

"Ah, he has improved there," Ignis adds. "Often you can actually see the floor in his apartment."

"A miracle indeed."

Right, well, if they're going to be happier picking on him gently together, fine, Noctis can play along. "I vacuum sometimes, Dad."

"When prompted."

"Ignis, I'm feeling very betrayed right now."

Ignis squeezes his hand, and then says, "I do think that Noctis's ability to concentrate so intensely is often an asset for schoolwork, rather than a problem."

"Hm. I suppose it might be." His dad leans back in his seat. "That reminds me that we'd discussed your university prospects at one point. Are you still interested in going overseas?"

Noctis had forgotten about that. Overseas. Away from Insomnia. "Uh. I… I don't--"

"Because of course, we wouldn't want to send a large retinue, but we wouldn't send you alone."

Noctis glances over at Ignis. "Oh."

"Altissia is beautiful," Ignis says, and there's an odd tone to his voice that makes Noctis wonder if Ignis still misses Altissia after all. "Or Tenebrae, I believe, has a good reputation in several fields."

"But I've duties here," Noctis says. "Not just in the Citadel, I mean."

"True." Noctis's father makes a vague gesture. "And I'd rather you stayed close."

"Then that's that," Noctis says, firmly. It's not a hard decision, really. "I mean, I'm still going to university, I think," he adds. "Just, here, and then I don't have to give up any of my duties."

Ignis, under the table, gives his hand a tight squeeze. Whether it's approval or not, Noctis has no idea.

"Have you a preferred subject for study yet?" his father asks, and then that's the conversation swept away into discussions of whether Ignis and his father think obscure branches of historical studies are better or worse than each other. It's nice, seeing them talk like this about something that isn't really work -- Noctis knows that they won't mind what he eventually picks to study, which helps -- and by the time they leave his father is promising to loan Ignis several books on their ancestors, including a few diaries Noctis knows aren't supposed to be seen by anyone outside the family.

It's nice. Maybe Ignis is one of the family, now. The thought makes him tuck his hand into Ignis's as they stroll back through the Citadel, and Ignis doesn't pull away, and that is really nice too.

--

Ignis is at meetings most of the afternoon, while Noctis hangs out with Prompto and Naomi and Cassia. Prompto's bought his little instant camera and keeps taking pics of them -- in the park, at the cafe, the brief stop by the arcade where they bump into a few guys from their class. Noctis steals a couple of the photos to show Ignis that he does have friends other than Prompto, but otherwise he tells Prompto the truth when asked -- Prompto's photos are okay, but he's got a lot of work to do to get good, starting with not cutting off the tops of people's heads or their chins.

Thankfully, Prompto just grins and tells him he'll work on it, then asks him to take photos of Prompto and Naomi together.

Those photos make Noctis a bit wistful. He doesn't really have many pictures of himself with Ignis, even though they've known each other most of their lives, and he has absolutely none since they started dating. It seems weird, asking Ignis to take a selfie with him, somehow, and besides that's not the same as someone else taking pictures of you together.

Well, he thinks, he can always start on the photo front. Ignis probably won't say no to a selfie, Noctis just needs to get over himself and ask.

And then his phone rings.

"I've finished early," Ignis says. "Are you free?"

"I'm hanging out with Prompto, but--"

"Ah, then I'll see you later."

There's a pause, in which Noctis raises his eyebrows at Prompto and receives a mouthed 'of course you can go' response, but Noctis isn't gonna just cut and run when he promised to hang out.

"Why don't you come here?" Noctis asks, cautiously.

Another pause. "If you'd like me to."

"Yeah." Noctis takes the menu Cassia's waving at him, reads off the street address at the bottom. "It's just a diner, nothing fancy."

"I'm sure it's charming. I'll see you soon."

As he puts his phone down, Naomi and Cassia both, in chorus, go, "your boyfriend?"

"Yep."

"I still think he's scary," Prompto says, and then grins. "But nice, when he's not scary."

Ignis, when he arrives, is definitely set on seeming more nice than scary. He asks questions like he's really interested in the answers, Noctis thinks, even when it can't be that interesting to know if Prompto's planning on buying a newer camera or whether Cassia's choosing which subjects to keep on studying in university. It's sweet, and it certainly makes the conversations flow really easily, and Noctis finds himself relaxing. Okay. Good. Ignis is willing to hang out with Noctis's friends sometimes, and isn't super uncomfortable when he does, so Noctis isn't going to have to keep those bits of his life separate.

Ignis sits next to Noctis in the booth, even puts his arm around Noctis's shoulders when Noctis leans into him. Even better, he doesn't pull away when Prompto snaps photos of the two of them together, though he's clearly not very used to smiling on command. It's hilarious, in fact; his dorky closed-eye smile on the photo Prompto shows Noctis is adorable, and Noctis makes a note to get a copy and use it as his phone screen forever.

They sit for some time, chatting, and then Ignis insists on paying for Noctis's food because he ate a few of the french fries.

"He's gorgeous, Noctis," Cassia says when Ignis is at the counter. "And… how old is he? I mean, he's a grown-up."

"Only a bit older than us. He's always been sort of mature though."

"And that accent," Naomi adds. "Don't you just want him to read things out to you all the time?"

Prompto gives Naomi a disbelieving look, which she ignores.

"I know, he's great. But paws off," Noctis says, rather pleased by their open admiration, "he's mine."

He looks over at Ignis, who catches him looking and smiles at him as if there's nobody else in the whole place, and Noctis's heart beats hard in his chest.

Ignis is his. Noctis is so lucky.

--

Ignis is still in his Citadel clothing when they get back to Noctis's apartment, smart shirt and pristine hair and looking as though nothing could ruffle his composure.

It really doesn't take long to get him exactly where Noctis wants him from there, shirt half-off and trousers opened, with his weight against the wall and his hands clenched tight in Noctis's hair as Noctis sinks to his knees.

Ignis likes blowjobs, a lot -- he definitely likes giving them, to Noctis's vague surprise, but he really likes getting them, and gets hard with gratifying speed when Noctis so much as hints that he's up for that. That makes Noctis feel incredible, sexy and powerful and confident all at once, as does the way that Ignis moans and calls out his name, and the way that Ignis's knees always seem to give out just afterwards. It's pretty handy, too, means Ignis ends up slumped on the floor where he can give Noctis a sloppy, desperate kiss afterwards. Noctis loves those kisses, where it feels like he's reduced Ignis to something where he can only express himself in urgent action.

Noctis also loves that Ignis, when he's got his breath back, is practically single-minded in his intent on getting Noctis naked, into bed, and off, in that order.

Orgasm knocks everything out of Noctis's head, all his anxieties and doubts swamped in a sort of white noise as he curls up and lets himself doze against Ignis's chest. Ignis kisses the top of his head, murmurs sweet nonsense against his hair, and then for a while -- always too brief, really -- there's just calm, thoughtless contentment between them.

"I thought," Ignis says, softly, "that you wanted to go out?"

"I do." Noctis lifts his head. "But, you know. First things first."

Ignis lets out the little, lazy huff of laughter Noctis only ever hears at times like this. "I can't argue with your priorities."

"Mm."

"Still, if you wish to get to our haven before nightfall--"

"Alright, alright." Noctis stretches. "Okay, getting dressed now."

"Yes, I can see exactly how dressed you are getting right now."

"Shush."

Noctis doesn't spin out getting dressed this time, since Ignis is right and they need to get a shake on. Still, he does cast a few looks at Ignis, as usual. Ignis is possibly even more attractive naked than he is with clothes on, and that still doesn't quite seem fair to Noctis; if he lets himself think about it too much, he starts comparing how scrawny and short and, well, boyish he is compared to Ignis. Ignis is tall, and the training he does about as often as Noctis does seems to show more easily on his body. But Ignis doesn't seem to have any complaints about how Noctis looks.

And while Ignis is looking away, Noctis slips the lube from the side-table into his pocket. Ignis likes it for when they jerk each other off, but it's definitely meant for, well, other things too.

Noctis has condoms in the bags in the car already, just in case. They haven't done that yet, but Noctis is hoping they might, tonight. It's not something they've really discussed, though. Maybe Ignis doesn't like doing that. Noctis figures he can ask, and if Ignis isn't interested, fine, but if he never asks then maybe Ignis will think he isn't interested.

--

Ignis has never put a tent up before in his life, Noctis would swear to that, and yet, he can see that Ignis is quietly itching to take the tent parts away from him so he can build the tent himself. It's almost tempting to tell him to give it a whirl if he wants, but Noctis wants to do most of the actual work this time. Tonight he's going to be as good to Ignis as Ignis usually is to him.

That doesn't mean he's not going to get Ignis to go get the fire and kettle set up, though. Got to keep him busy somehow.

Noctis has the tent up and the air-mattress mostly-inflated with the little electric pump he's brought before Ignis sticks his head in to see what he's doing. "I see we're not roughing it, then."

"What, you wanna sleep on foam mats?"

"I'm sure I'd survive."

"Yeah, well, some of us are not afraid of comfort." The pump clicks off. "Now go on, scoot, I wanna make it nice in here and you'll ruin the impact."

Ignis makes an amused noise. "Very well."

Noctis hangs the little lantern from the tent's peak, and clicks it on so he can see in the already-dwindling light. Bedding next; Noctis has proper sheets and a thick blanket in case they get cold. He tucks the condom and lube under the bed on his usual side, pulls the blanket down so the bulge isn't obvious. There.

It's not super romantic, as it stands, he thinks critically as he looks at the tent interior. But it's cosy, and hopefully the outside views will be beautiful enough to make up for it.

He turns off the light, and goes back outside.

Ignis has the campfire going, though it's still quite low, and it looks like he's even refrained from opening the box of foods that Noctis also brought along. The kettle is steaming, and as Noctis watches Ignis pours out two cups of tea for them.

"All set," Noctis says. "Hungry?"

"Rather famished, yes."

Noctis can't cook anything like the way Ignis can. He tried, the night before when Ignis was busy, using a recipe he found online. Everything went into the trash, after taste testing. No good, or not good enough at least.

So he cheated, and bought tonight's meal instead.

He doesn't pretend otherwise, pulling the clearly labelled containers out of the food box, and Ignis makes a delighted sound as he sees the name. It's the same Galahdian place he bought breakfast for Noctis from, which seemed a good omen to Noctis. Galahdian skewers and meatballs, all as spicy as Noctis can stand since that's the way Ignis likes them, and Ignis gives Noctis a side-long look as he puts the foil containers on the metal tray.

"We are both going to taste of this, you know," he observes.

"It's fine if we both do, right?"

Ignis's smile curves up. "No, I didn't mean our mouths."

Oh. Oh, ew. "Seriously?"

"So I've been told." Ignis's smile is indecipherable, like he could be winding Noctis up or just amused that Noctis doesn't know this. "I suppose I won't mind too much."

Noctis kisses him, instead of asking questions he might not get a proper answer to.

The sky darkens to smoky black, and the dinner is delicious, and afterwards they use the little contraption of Ignis's that covers over the firepit. It wipes out most of the ambient light and leaves the sky unfurled above them, an ocean of stars.

Ignis sits down and spreads his legs out, pats the space between his knees invitingly. Noctis obediently sits where he's told and leans back against Ignis's chest. Oh. Okay. It's immediately his new favourite way to stargaze, with Ignis's arm looped around his waist and Ignis's warm body against his back. He tips his head back, and Ignis shifts obligingly so that Noctis's head is resting on his shoulder.

The night sky has always been special for Noctis, ever since his childhood. He spent long hours trying to memorise the maps of constellations, only to be disappointed by what he could see from the Citadel. Their many evenings spent finding better and better places to stargaze were a response to the need Noctis hadn't even been able to explain properly, the need to see the stars himself, to prove they're really up there.

Out here, the sheer depth and grandeur of the night sky fills that anxious ache entirely.

The position is intimate and comfortable, and means that Ignis occasionally presses soft little kisses against the edge of his hairline just behind his ear, which is just arousing enough to keep a little buzz of anticipation humming in Noctis's nerves.

When that prickle becomes just a little too much to bear, Noctis turns his head and lets Ignis claim his lips. Ignis's hands move slowly down Noctis's chest and stomach as they kiss, a caress that only adds to the heat building in Noctis's belly, and it doesn't take long for him to pull away and say, "tent."

It takes Noctis a few fumbling seconds to turn on the lantern once they're inside, seconds in which Ignis's hands have made short work of Noctis's trouser buttons. Hands on skin; it makes Noctis feel giddy with desire. They topple over, Noctis below Ignis, and as clothes slide off hands are followed by the hot tracks of mouths. Ignis kisses everywhere that Noctis has bare; arms, stomach, the hollow of his hips, and only then does Noctis reach for Ignis to stop him.

"Wait," he says, and reaches for the supplies he brought.

He's expecting a faint protest, or at least an 'are you sure', but Ignis just blinks once, slowly, and then takes the condom packet and lube from him. Ignis presses another kiss to the hollow of Noctis's hip, and then the inside of Noctis's thigh, and then when that makes Noctis lift his leg he pushes the leg up and kisses the back of Noctis's thigh.

Whispered words, slickened fingers, gentle pressure. With fingers inside Noctis -- and that's just weird to Noctis, uncomfortable but not unpleasant -- Ignis begins to mouth at his cock, and then there's a few confused moments where Noctis's body doesn't seem quite sure how to handle the combination of stimuli. His muscles spasm along his thighs and in his stomach, and Ignis's other hand strokes gently as if to soothe him, even as Noctis gasps and tries to stop the twitching.

And then it all starts to feel good, and he relaxes, and gives himself over to the dual points of pleasure, hot wetness on his cock and fullness further back. The feel of Ignis touching inside him reminds Noctis of the times he's tried pressing up hard behind his balls when jerking off, like an added intensity to the rise and ebb of his arousal.

"Noct," Ignis says, his breath ghosting along Noctis's wet cock, "you're alright?"

"Yeah."

It's one swift, fast slide upwards on Ignis's part, and then he's kissing Noctis again and lifting Noctis's ass up. It's an undignified position, and Noctis has to hold himself there while Ignis does the necessary with the condom and lube, but then Ignis is pressing into him and biting at Noctis's lower lip with hungry noises.

The airbed dips alarmingly beneath them, but that's easy to ignore in favour of everything else.

Ignis inside him is another weirdness, but one that very quickly recedes until Noctis's head is full of a sort of foggy, animal want instead of thoughts. He's not sure he's making this good for Ignis, because all he seems to be able to do is moan and grip Ignis's shoulders, but Ignis is making the same sort of noises he does when Noctis gets him off so clearly it's good enough.

Ignis's hand closes around his cock, and it's a startlingly short time from there until Noctis comes, hard, the force of it spasming through his body and making him jolt upwards. Ignis stops completely until Noctis is relaxed and sprawled and feels limp, and then he hitches Noctis's ass upwards in a way that's sort of undignified and slowly resumes his thrusts. To Noctis's surprise, that feels good even though he's already come, the full sensation and friction and stretch as Ignis takes his own pleasure in Noctis's body. When Ignis comes, his breath is hot and wet in Noctis's ear, and Noctis hears the word 'love' somewhere in the jumble of nonsense that Ignis spills out.

Love. It makes Noctis feel even more blissed-out and content; sex-drunk, happy and loved.

Afterwards, Ignis keeps making little huffing amused noises as they clean up.

"What now?"

"This tent is hardly sound-proof," Ignis says, gesturing upwards. "I do hope we didn't disturb the local wildlife too much."

"Hey, we weren't that loud."

"I wasn't. You, on the other hand--"

Noctis's cheeks warm up with embarrassment. "You made me noisy, it's your fault."

"And my knees rather regret the choice of an airbed."

"Are you going to complain about everything?"

Ignis pauses, and then leans in to kiss Noctis. "No. I'm astounded by how lucky I am, Noct. You were perfect."

Noctis sniffs, theatrically. "That's more like it."

They lie sprawled out together for a while, Ignis for once pillowing his head on Noctis's chest. It's so far beyond anything Noctis could have imagined even a couple of months ago, this closeness and happiness.

"Well," Ignis says, lifting his head. "Not to ruin the moment entirely, but I need to, ah, bladder--"

"Oh, go, go, don't pee on me."

Ignis gets up, puts on his pants and glasses, and leaves the tent. For about twenty seconds. Then he ducks his head back in. "Noct, get out here."

"I'm not--"

"Right now!"

Noctis grabs the blanket and obeys, confused, and when he sticks his head outside he sees why Ignis was so urgent.

Oh. Oh my god. Right above them, a meteor shower. Noctis cranes his neck and marvels, steps out of the tent and wraps the blanket around himself. It's beautiful, like the stars have decided to dance just for them.

Ignis is staring upwards too, and the falling stars are reflected in his glasses when Noctis looks over. Noctis closes the gap between them, pulls the blanket around them both, and leans his head against Ignis's chest.

Ignis isn't perfect. Noctis isn't, either. But what they have between them, at moments like this, is as close to perfect as Noctis could possibly wish.